Mediator Wants to Listen

By Kevin Eigelbach
The Kentucky Post [Kentucky]
Downloaded May 28, 2004

The world-class mediator hired to help settle a class-action lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington speaks modestly about his importance to the case.

Kenneth R. Feinberg, the special master for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, speaks of "maybe" providing some insight towards a solution of the Covington case.

He talks not of resolving the case, but of offering suggestions on how to resolve it.

His first task, he said Thursday, will be to meet separately with both sides over the next few weeks.

"I want to listen and hear what they have to say," he said, adding that his September 11th duties will keep him busy until June 15.

Feinberg has successfully mediated legislation involving Agent Orange, the Dalkon Shield, silicone breast implants, heart valves, tobacco and asbestos.

But he thinks his September 11th mediation got him the job mediating the diocese case, which he said he knows nothing about.

Both cases involve very emotional issues and victims of horrific crimes, he said. He may have a perspective on those issues that others might not, he said.

"The biggest obstacle to the September 11th fund was the emotion of the families," he said. "We overcame it -- over 98 percent of eligible families signed in."

He said he doesn't think he has ever worked on a case involving sexual abuse by priests.

The class action in Covington stems from a lawsuit filed against the diocese in Boone Circuit Court by Cincinnati attorneys Stan Chesley and Robert Steinberg.

They say the diocese covered up allegations of sexual abuse by priests for 50 years; that at least 62 priests and other staff had abuse allegations made against them; and that there may be hundreds of victims.

They and attorneys for the diocese have jointly retained Feinberg, of the Washington-based Feinberg Group LLC, to mediate the case.

The judge hearing the class action suit, former Jefferson Circuit Court Judge John Potter, ordered the parties to report on their efforts to resolve the case outside court.

They did so on Thursday, filing a report that formally announced Feinberg's appointment, and saying they would report back to the court when the mediation process ends.

Chicago attorney Carrie Huff, who is representing the diocese in the class action and other priest-abuse lawsuits, called Feinberg a superb mediator, and said she was very grateful he was willing to help.

"Rather than posturing in court, we're actually sitting down to identify some of the obstacles and what we can do to resolve them," she said.

Chesley complimented the diocese on agreeing to hire Feinberg, saying that his clients want to move forward to a resolution.

However, he said there is no guarantee the mediation will work.

Huff said she sees the mediation as an opportunity to "extend the reconciliation process" to victims who have not come directly to the diocese.

Seventy alleged victims have opted out of the class-action lawsuit, Huff said, and the diocese is still actively negotiating settlements with about 15.

Forty-three of those 70 have already reached settlements, she said, two of them as recently as last week. The diocese has paid about $8.95 million to settle those 43 claims, she said.

The diocese said in February that between 1950 and 1990, 35 priests sexually abused 205 victims.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.