Attorneys Work on Accord in Seminary Abuse Cases
Lawyers Say 23 Men Could Receive $1 Million Each in Their Suit against Church and Franciscans
By Jean Guccione
Los Angeles Times
March 8, 2006
Lawyers huddled in a downtown Los Angeles courthouse late Tuesday, trying to settle 23 decades-old molestation cases out of the now-defunct St. Anthony's Seminary in Santa Barbara.
The men are suing the Los Angeles Archdiocese and the Franciscan religious order that ran the seminary, alleging they failed to protect the men from predatory priests.
A deal in these cases would mark the largest group settlement in the L.A. Archdiocese since the sexual abuse scandal was disclosed four years ago. It comes as the archdiocese is facing 560 sexual abuse cases.
Lawyers involved in the negotiations said each case was expected to settle for more than $1 million. That amount would put it in roughly the same range as last year's global settlement in which the Diocese of Orange closed the books on 90 abuse claims for a record $100 million.
"This is the last-ditch settlement talks before the trial," said attorney David Nye, who represents 13 of the plaintiffs. "I hope they do the right thing."
Over the past several days, Mel Jurisich, provincial minister for the Franciscans, has met privately with several alleged victims in the courthouse to apologize to them, according to lawyers involved in the cases. Jurisich and his lawyers declined to comment.
The claims being weighed by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Tim McCoy allege that at least nine clerics abused the men in separate incidents beginning in the 1950s and extending through 1987, when the seminary closed for financial reasons.
Most of the claims involve two former St. Anthony's clerics: Accused priest Mario Cimmarrusti, who was the prefect of discipline in the 1960s and 1970s, and convicted child molester Robert Van Handel, who was sentenced in 1994 to eight years in prison for molesting a 14-year-old boy.
The first civil case involving Cimmarrusti is set to go to trial in Northern California later this month, lending urgency to the settlement talks.
Another case involves Franciscan priest Gus Krumm. The Franciscan Friars paid an undisclosed amount in 1995 to settle an earlier abuse case brought by a former student at the Santa Barbara Seminary against Krumm. Subsequently, another student said he too had been abused by Krumm. The priest was removed from a Portland, Ore., church in 2002 after he informed church officials of "indiscretions" in the 1970s and '80s.
Tuesday's developments came after years of scrutiny of St. Anthony's. A 1993 internal report found that 34 boys had been sexually abused by 12 priests at the seminary between 1964 and 1987.
The cases being weighed Tuesday carry particular significance because they could help determine the size of potential settlement payouts in the remaining cases facing the L.A. archdiocese.
Settlement talks recently have resumed between the archdiocese and dozens of other people who had filed claims for damages not covered under the church's insurance policies. Additionally, a judge in November placed 44 other cases on track for trial some time this year. Plaintiffs' attorneys have estimated that these cases, which accuse the archdiocese of failing to protect children, could cost as much as $1 billion to resolve.
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