Judge Will Stay on with Suit against Diocese
Lawyers for Schauer Wanted Warpinski, a Catholic, off Caselawyers for Schauer Wanted Warpinski, a Catholic, off Case
By Andy Nelesen
Green Bay Press-Gazette [Wisconsin]
November 7, 2006
A Brown County judge on Monday refused to step down from a lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay.
Lawyers for David Schauer, a man molested by a priest in the late '80s, had demanded Brown County Circuit Court Judge Mark Warpinski recuse himself from the case because he's Catholic, served on the Board of Education for Notre Dame Academy and because a settlement letter to the court was made public by a Green Bay Press-Gazette reporter.
The Green Bay diocese, the defendant in Schauer's lawsuit, opposed the recusal. Schauer, 28, of Marshfield, has sued the diocese, Ss. Peter and Paul School and Hawkeye Security Insurance Co., alleging that the diocese and school officials were aware that the former priest preyed on boys and failed to protect students.
The case currently hinges on a legal argument about the statute of limitations. The diocese claims the deadline to bring legal action has passed, while Schauer asserts the diocese's actions in the years immediately following the attacks caused him to withhold filing a suit.
If a jury decides diocesan leaders' actions prevented Schauer from filing suit, the case then can move to a liability and damages phase. Donald Buzanowski, the now-defrocked priest also named in the suit, was convicted of two counts of second-degree sexual assault of a child in July 2005.
"In this context it certainly would be far easier to recuse myself, but I don't think that's fair to the parties who have invested so much in this litigation and, quite frankly, I don't think it's fair to my fellow judges on the bench to simply walk away from this case and say, 'Now it's yours,'" Warpinski said.
"I am not satisfied that sufficient facts have been provided that would lead to the conclusion that there is any subjective bias here on the part of the court," Warpinski ruled.
Warpinski started the hearing by acknowledging his faith, his involvement with the Notre Dame board and offering details of how the settlement letter information became public. He also noted that there have been many evidentiary rulings made in the case, some of which ended in Schauer's favor, others in the diocese's favor and some in neutral territory.
Warpinski said it should not be a surprise to anyone that he is a practicing Catholic in the Green Bay diocese. Warpinski said he has not hid the fact and asserted that his faith was discussed early in the case.
When Schauer's lawyer, Daniel Whetter, said he thought he had heard Warpinski was raised Catholic but didn't know it as a fact, Warpinski said, "There are 14 kids in our family, Mr. Whetter … what do you think?"
The letter, which was a basis for a Press-Gazette story in the days leading up to the scheduled jury trial, detailed a diocese's offer rejected by Schauer and his lawyers. After the article was printed, Schauer's lawyers asked that the trial be delayed to allow time to pass before a jury panel was selected. It was also part of the basis for their recusal motion.
"There has been a full explanation, at this point, of how the letter was released to the public and curative actions were taken," Warpinski said. "This matter is in a proper posture to be concluded in January. If the court is wrong on its various evidentiary rulings, those can be addressed."
The jury trial on the statute of limitation issue is set to begin Jan. 29.
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