Judge Denies Diocese Motion

By Todd Ruger
Quad-City Times [Iowa]
July 16, 2004

An Iowa 7th Judicial District judge denied attempts by the Catholic Diocese of Davenport to dismiss two of 16 civil lawsuits alleging decades-old sexual abuse by priests.

The diocese argued that the plaintiffs - James Wells and a man identified only as John Doe III - failed to file the suits before a statute of limitations expired.

Judge C.H. Pelton filed his written ruling Thursday as part of the suits, which allege sexual abuse by the Rev. James Janssen, the Rev. Francis Bass and the Rev. Theodore Geerts more than 30 years ago.

Attorneys for the diocese and priests arguing for dismissal of the lawsuits said the passage of time since the actions alleged in the suits makes them impossible to defend.

But Pelton said filings by Wells and John Doe III generated questions of fact on whether the plaintiffs qualified for three possible exemptions in the statute of limitations.

"The court concludes that summary judgment for defendants dismissing Wells and John Doe III for failing to file within the applicable statutes of limitations would be

inappropriate," he wrote.

The lawsuits will proceed toward jury trials unless Pelton's decision is appealed. The diocese said it is studying the judge's opinion to determine whether it should ask the Iowa Supreme Court to take the issues under appeal.

Pelton has been assigned to all sexual abuse lawsuits filed against the diocese in Scott and Clinton counties.

Davenport attorney Craig Levien, who represents Wells, John Doe III and some other plaintiffs, said the ruling brings the victims one step closer to being healed of their abuse.

"We believe that the ruling shows the statute of limitations as a matter of law does not bar these cases," he said.

The diocese said it continues to be interested in mediating the claims.

Levien said he is in the process of giving the diocese information on 18 potential lawsuits in which the diocese has agreed it will discuss mediation without a lawsuit being filed.

"I think the ball is in the diocese's court now to determine whether they want to continue legal attacks on the claims," he added.

He said a court order bars his clients and the diocese from commenting on, arguing or discussing possible settlement figures in public.

"We view these as very substantial claims," he said.

A district judge in Lee County, Iowa, denied a similar attempt by the diocese to dismiss a sexual abuse lawsuit filed there. That judge said statute-of-limitations issues would be best decided by a jury.


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