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  Judge Is Asked to Sanction Mahony
Attorneys for Plaintiffs in Stockton Sex-Abuse Suits Say Cardinal Skipped Deposition

By Jean Guccione
Los Angeles Times [Los Angeles CA]
Downloaded April 29, 2004

Lawyers have asked a judge to hold Cardinal Roger M. Mahony in contempt of court for refusing to appear at a scheduled deposition in sex-abuse cases involving a former Stockton priest he supervised two decades ago.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charles W. "Tim" McCoy on Wednesday gave Mahony until Tuesday to respond to the request for a contempt hearing.

In court papers, the lawyers accused Mahony of "willful disobedience" for reneging on an agreement to give sworn testimony in six civil cases accusing the Stockton Diocese of negligence. Mahony was bishop of Stockton from 1980 until he was named archbishop of Los Angeles in 1985.

Mahony's lawyer J. Michael Hennigan called the motion "irresponsible and frivolous." Mahony would never be cited for contempt in this matter because the judge had forced postponement of the scheduled deposition, his lawyer said.

He accused plaintiffs' lawyers of trying to "grab a headline" at the cardinal's expense.

"The idea that he might be held in contempt is frivolous," Hennigan said. "It's not a big deal. It's not going to happen."

Plaintiffs' lawyer Venus Soltan disagreed.

"There is nothing frivolous about this. We have been trying to take his deposition for six months, but they keep putting conditions on it," she said. "This is not a vindictive thing on our part. We want his deposition."

After hearing from both sides, McCoy may issue an order to show cause why he should not hold a contempt hearing or reject the plaintiffs' request that he intervene in pretrial discovery.

If a contempt hearing is set, Mahony will be required to testify in open court. A judge has the authority to compel testimony.

Mahony is one of only two bishops in the United States to be deposed about their supervision of priests suspected of sexually abusing children. The other, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, was forced to resign as archbishop of Boston after transcripts of his deposition were made public.

More than 500 people sued the Los Angeles Archdiocese last year, alleging that church officials failed to protect children from pedophile priests.

Mahony has not been deposed in any of those cases. Lawyers on both sides have agreed to suspend discovery, including deposition, as they try to reach a settlement.

Mahony had been set to be deposed April 22 in a San Joaquin County lawsuit brought by a man who said he had been raped by Oliver Francis O'Grady, then a priest, in the late 1970s when he was attending St. Anne Catholic School in Lodi.

But the deposition was postponed two days earlier, when McCoy ordered as many as 94 sex abuse cases involving Roman Catholic priests in Northern California to be funneled to a single judge for trial. Under court rules, all litigation in those cases, including Mahony's deposition, was halted until California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George names a trial judge.

Documents filed with the court Tuesday showed that Mahony's lawyers had no intention of allowing Mahony's deposition to proceed on April 22.

Hours before McCoy's ruling, Mahony's attorney Donald F. Woods Jr. advised plaintiffs' counsel in writing that they should change their travel plans because "we will not be presenting the cardinal at this time."

On April 19, Woods proposed "ground rules" for the proceedings. He demanded that the deposition be moved to his office or the cardinal's due to concerns for Mahony's safety and that transcripts be kept secret. He also sought to limit the scope of the questioning to the five years when Mahony was bishop of Stockton, to bar any questions the cardinal had answered in prior cases and to limit his testimony to one day.

When the plaintiffs' lawyers sought to change his proposed ground rules, including the site, Woods called off the deposition.

This is the second time John Manly, an attorney who subpoenaed Mahony in this case, has come within days of deposing the cardinal in a sex-abuse case. In 1999, the dioceses of Los Angeles and Orange settled another case for a record $5.2 million, making Mahony's testimony unnecessary.

Plaintiffs' lawyers contend that they are entitled to question Mahony in the Stockton cases because "he was an active participant in the supervision of" O'Grady," who was convicted in 1994 of child molestation and served six years in prison.

Mahony has "direct and particular knowledge as to the Stockton Diocese's direct involvement in concealing O'Grady's past and continuing acts, and assigning, enabling and allowing O'Grady to continue to prey on children," according to a March 30 letter from Manly to the cardinal's legal counsel.

 
 

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