Judge to Oversee Priest Sex-Abuse Pretrial Proceedings
Coordination of Cases to Affect Dozens of Lawsuits
By Bob Egelko
San Francisco Chronicle [California]
May 7, 2004
Pretrial proceedings in dozens of lawsuits against Roman Catholic dioceses in Northern California alleging molestation by priests will be heard by a judge in Alameda County, Chief Justice Ronald George announced Thursday.
The order affects between 56 and 94 suits against the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the dioceses of Monterey, Oakland, San Jose, Santa Rosa and Stockton. The suits were filed last year, when a state law temporarily suspended the legal deadline for suing churches for sexual abuse by clergy.
A judge in Los Angeles ruled last month that the Northern California cases should be assigned to a single judge, who would rule on pretrial legal issues and each side's access to the other's witnesses and evidence. Each case would then be returned to its county of origin for trial.
The procedure, known as coordination, is being used in Los Angeles in about 400 Southern California cases. Church lawyers say coordination guarantees consistent rulings on issues that are common to all the cases, such as privacy, separation of church and state, and employers' responsibility to supervise employees.
Plaintiffs' attorneys opposed the order, saying it would delay suits that were ready for trial, further frustrating clients who have been waiting years to get to court.
Superior Court Judge Charles McCoy recommended assigning the proceedings to a judge in San Francisco. The final decision was left to George, chief justice of the state Supreme Court, who authorized Barbara Miller, presiding judge of the Alameda County Superior Court, to assign the cases to a judge in her court.
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