Cardinal Roger Mahony's Lawyers Call Contempt Motion Headline-Seeking Ploy

The Associated Press, carried in Herald Tribune [Los Angeles CA]
Downloaded May 5, 2004


Attorneys for Roman Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony called a request that he be held in contempt of court a "headline-attempting motion of no merit," in papers filed Tuesday in court.

Attorneys for about 80 alleged abuse victims issued the request last month after they said Mahony defied a subpoena to testify at a deposition in a civil case involving former priest Oliver O'Grady, accused of molesting a boy in San Joaquin County in the 1970s.

Los Angles Superior Court Judge Charles McCoy had ordered Mahony to respond to the motion before making his ruling.

Mahony's lawyers, J. Michael Hennigan and Donald F. Woods Jr., argued in the papers that the plaintiff's attorneys have "no urgent need" to question Mahony under oath because he is in "relatively good health" and "because Cardinal Mahony has testified exhaustively on four different occasions concerning his minimal knowledge about Father Oliver O'Grady, the alleged offender."

Mahony was the bishop of Stockton, where O'Grady served, from 1980 to 1985, before he came to Los Angeles to head the nation's largest archdiocese.

Venus Soltan, one of two lawyers representing the plaintiffs, said she had not seen the filings but said it's a matter of following the law.

"The issue here is whether or not Cardinal Mahony has the right to ignore a court order. He was served with a subpoena, and he ignored that order," she said. "No one in this country is above the law."

A diocese spokesman did not immediately return a telephone message left Tuesday night after business hours.

The subpoena was served in March, and Mahony agreed to testify April 6, later moving the date to April 22, Soltan said. Several days before the deposition, however, Mahony stated he would not testify, she said.

Soltan dismissed claims that her motion was filed in an effort to garner publicity for the case.

"The biggest problem here and has always been is that the church has been operating in secrecy, and one of the things that our clients have consistently said from the very beginning is that they want there to be transparency," she said. "They want the problem to be aired, and they want the solution to be reached publicly."

The case was complicated last month when all molestation lawsuits in Northern California were ordered to be coordinated by a single court. That order temporarily halted court activity on 94 suits, including the O'Grady case.

Church attorney Donald Woods has said the deposition became moot after the judge halted the suits.


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