Mediator to Tackle Church Lawsuit

By Paul A. Long
The Cincinnati Post [Covington KY]
Downloaded May 27, 2004

The Diocese of Covington and the dozens of people suing it to press claims they were sexually abused by priests are seeking a way to settle the class-action lawsuit, and they have called upon one of the nation's top mediators to help them do so.

In a joint motion expected to be filed todayin Boone Circuit Court, the parties said they have retained Kenneth R. Feinberg to serve as their mediator.

Feinberg, founder of the Feinberg Group in Washington, is best known for his role as special master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. He also has helped mediate cases involving Agent Orange, silicon breast implants, asbestos, tobacco and nuclear facilities.

"Mr. Feinberg has an excellent reputation and a vast amount of experience in the mediation of complex litigation," said the Boone Circuit Court document, signed by Carrie Huff for the diocese and Robert Steinberg for those who say they have suffered sexual abuse.

The hiring of Feinberg -- who will be paid by the parties in the lawsuit, not by the court -- came as a response to a request from Senior Judge John Potter, a former Jefferson Circuit Court judge who is overseeing the case. Potter had asked the parties to present a plan to try to resolve the suit.

Steinberg and his partner, Stan Chesley, filed the original lawsuit in Boone County, alleging a 50-year cover-up by the diocese of sexual abuse by its priests and other workers. The two attorneys claim to represent more than 100 victims, and say dozens of priests were abusers.

Former Boone Circuit Judge Jay Bamberger last year ordered that the lawsuit be certified as a class-action. The diocese fought against that designation -- which is believed to be the first in the nation -- saying the allegations should be settled on an individual basis.

The two attorneys recently issued subpoenas to 14 current, suspended or former priests, and also said they wanted to depose former Bishop William Hughes.

The filing today means that both parties are looking to make an out-of-court settlement, rather than take the case to trial. Among the issues to be discussed is how much compensation each victim will receive.

Feinberg has made a career of mediating such cases. In addition, he has taught at some of the top law schools in the country, including Georgetown University Law Center, the New York University School of Law and the University of Virginia Law School.

According to the Web site of his firm, he was one of three arbitrators selected to determine the fair market value of the original Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination. He is one of two arbitrators selected to determine the allocation of legal fees in the Holocaust slave labor litigation.

As special master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, Feinberg is responsible for establishing and administering the fund and setting up regulations to determine the awards for individual victims.

Congress set up the fund to provide compensation to the victims and families for lost wages, pain and suffering and other damages. In return, the victims agreed to waive their rights to sue the airlines involved in the attacks, or other potentially responsible entities.

Attorney General John Ashcroft tabbed Feinberg, a former aide to Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., to oversee the fund.