Attorneys to Question Retired Covington Bishop

By Bob Driehaus
Cincinnati Post [Covington KY]
Downloaded April 7, 2004

Attorneys for dozens of plaintiffs who claim they were abused by Diocese of Covington priests plan to question retired Covington Bishop William Hughes about his oversight of the diocese as part of an ongoing class-action lawsuit now scheduled to go to trial in October.

Plaintiffs' attorney Robert Steinberg said he wants to ask Hughes about a wide range of topics but especially about what he knew of the abuse that was taking place under his watch. He is not accusing Hughes, who was Covington bishop from 1979 until his retirement in 1995, of being an abuser.

Steinberg arguing, with co-counsel Stan Chesley, the first class-action case against a U.S. diocese on sexual abuse claims, also plans to take the depositions of 20 priests accused of sexually abusing children while serving in the diocese.

At a hearing in Boone Circuit Court Tuesday, Special Judge John Potter set Oct. 25 for the beginning of a trial that's expected to last up to four weeks. A pre-trial hearing to discuss specifics of the trial is set for July 12.

Steinberg pushed for setting a trial date as a means to move settlement negotiations forward.

"I would think, your honor, that the one thing that would facilitate settlement in this case would be a trial date. And without one, I think settlement is unlikely," he told Potter.

Chesley added: "More cases get settled on the courthouse steps than go to trial. Most of the abuse cases (around the country) that were settled for fair compensation were settled on the courthouse steps."

But Steinberg and Chesley also said they would like to see a trial go forward.

Steinberg said a trial would be beneficial because reams of evidence would be made public regarding the diocese's failure to stop priests and others from repeatedly abusing children.

He said there are thousands of documents detailing the conduct of bishops and other administrators who allowed priests with records of abuse to be transferred into other job assignments where they were in contact with more children.

"In some cases, the abuse went on for 20 years," Steinberg said. "We think these records need to see the light of day. The public needs to see this information."

The case was first certified as a class-action in late September 2003.

Carrie Huff, attorney for the diocese, declined to comment on the potential impact of setting a trial date.

She argued to Potter that it was necessary for the victims' attorneys to present a list of victims in the near future to keep the case moving ahead efficiently.

Steinberg disagreed, arguing that presenting a final list of victims this early would discourage others from stepping forward in the coming months.

Huff said disclosure for victims would be difficult whenever it came. "It will always be harder for people to come forward in this context (than less emotional cases).

"The issue is timing."

Both sides agreed that all victims who want to collect on any settlement or jury award eventually would have to identify themselves to the court and be subject to questioning to verify their claims.

Chesley's team also filed a series of motions to compel the diocese to give the plaintiffs records of victims' complaints of sexual abuse and psychological evaluations of victims and accused priests.

By the diocese's count, 35 priests abused 205 victims from 1950 to 1990.

The diocese said in February that 16 of the 35 priests have died, five have been removed from the priesthood and 14 have been permanently removed from active ministry.

The diocese said it had paid $14.3 million for settlements, counseling and legal fees.

The diocese's insurer paid $9.4 million of that and the diocese the other $4.9 million from investment income


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