November Trials for 5 Priest Lawsuits
By Mark Sauer
June 22, 2006
After years of legal wrangling, the first of 155 San Diego-based lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests has been set for trial in November.
Five sexual-abuse cases filed against the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego were assigned Tuesday to veteran Judge John Einhorn by San Diego Superior Court Presiding Judge Janis Sammartino.
The alleged abuse, dating decades, occurred at the hands of five priests, according to the lawsuits, which are scheduled to be tried consecutively beginning Nov. 10.
About $1.5 billion has been paid by Catholic authorities to victims of clergy abuse in hundreds of cases tried or settled across California and the nation since the scandal broke more than four years ago.
But nearly 600 lawsuits involving Los Angeles and San Diego claimants have stalled in mediation as lawyers for the two dioceses filed myriad legal challenges, including one that almost reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court declined to hear the case.
Haley J. Fromholz, the Los Angeles Superior Court judge overseeing all of the lawsuits, put 10 – five in Los Angeles and five in San Diego – on a fast track to trial last month.
Attorneys representing the San Diego diocese and Bishop Robert Brom argued forcefully Tuesday that they could not possibly be ready for trial by November.
But Sammartino, the presiding judge, resisted. She asked Brom attorney Robert Hanna when he thought the defendants might be ready.
"July or August of 2007, your honor," Hanna replied.
"You want to go more than a year from now?" Sammartino asked.
"Yes, I do," Hanna said.
Sammartino noted that Judge Fromholz in Los Angeles was well aware of pending legal issues and necessary preparation, yet he asked her to expedite the five San Diego cases.
"You cannot go off to never-never land with no connection to the calendar," Sammartino concluded, as she set the trials to begin in five months.
The lawsuits filed by middle-aged adults allege childhood abuse that occurred decades ago.
The Rev. Franz Robier is accused of molesting four sisters, ages 5 to 13, who lived at a Catholic Charities orphanage in San Diego after arriving from Europe in the 1950s. Robier died in 1994.
Monsignor William Kraft, who is named in several lawsuits, attempted to rape a boy in the church rectory at St. Therese in Del Cerro in 1969, after abusing the boy for five years beginning when he was 11, according to the complaint. Kraft died in 1982.
The Rev. Patrick O'Keefe, who is retired from the Diocese of San Bernardino, allegedly engaged in fondling and masturbation of a teenage boy in a school office and rectory at St. Adelaide church in the suburb of Highland. (San Bernardino was once a part of the San Diego diocese.) The suit set for trial involving Edward Anthony Rodrigue is one of 19 filed against the former priest and convicted child molester.
Rodrigue, 69, lives in a San Bernardino apartment after being released on parole in January from state prison. He received a 10-year sentence in 1998 for molesting an 11-year-old, developmentally disabled boy in San Bernardino County.
The unnamed victim in the lawsuit set for trial in November alleges that when Rodrigue was a priest at El Centro's Our Lady of Guadalupe parish, he sexually abused him regularly over the course of a year in 1976.
The Rev. John Daly, who died in 1989, is accused of molesting 16-year-old Michael Shoemaker at St. Joseph Church in Holtville in 1977. Shoemaker said he and a friend were picked up by the priest in El Centro while hitchhiking in the rain.
He said in a 2002 interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune that he awoke that night to find Daly orally copulating him. Shoemaker reported the incident to police and Daly was arrested, but never prosecuted.
The order in which the five cases will be tried should be left up to Einhorn, said Michael Webb, attorney for the San Diego diocese. None of the plaintiffs' lawyers disagreed.
Mark Sauer: (619) 293-2227; firstname.lastname@example.org
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