San Diego Diocese Wants Abuse Trials Postponed
State Appellate Court: It Has Also Asked That Some of the Pending Claims Be Dismissed
By Michael Fisher
The Press-Enterprise [California]
February 12, 2007
With trial set to begin this month in the first of the long-stalled Southern California clergy-abuse lawsuits, the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego has asked a state appellate court to dismiss some of the pending claims.
Attorneys for the diocese also requested the 2nd District Court of Appeals to postpone the trials.
The first clergy-abuse case poised to reach a Southern California courtroom involves a Colorado woman who claims she was sexually abused as a teenager by Monsignor Patrick O'Keeffe at St. Adelaide Catholic Church in Highland in the early 1970s.
State legislation approved in 2003 created a window for those claiming to have been molested as children to sue the Catholic Church decades later. But the law limited the scope of those claims, such as cases where church leaders knew about an abusive priest but failed to take steps to prevent future sexual misconduct, diocesan attorneys wrote in court documents filed last week.
About 155 lawsuits filed against the San Diego Diocese and the San Bernardino Diocese contain "every potential cause of action under the sun," diocesan attorneys argue in the court documents.
Diocesan lawyers argued that some of the lawsuits make duplicative and unintelligible claims, from unfair business practices to civil-rights violations, many of which fall outside the scope of what the 2003 law allowed.
Five lawsuits poised to start trial in San Diego could be further postponed by the appeal, according to attorneys for those suing the church.
"This is a desperate tactic to try to get more time and delay the inevitable," said attorney Irwin Zalkin, who represents a man in one of the five cases. "These are issues that were litigated ... back in November."
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Haley Fromholz previously rejected the diocese's arguments, issuing a 70-page order late last year, Zalkin said. Fromholz is coordinating all 650 clergy-abuse cases in Southern California.
Zalkin noted that the appellate court could decide to hear the appeal without issuing a stay delaying the trials.
Michael Webb, attorney for the San Diego Diocese, declined comment last week and did not respond to a telephone message Monday.
Attorneys for the diocese told the Daily Journal, a legal newspaper, that they did not file the appeal sooner because they only recently received transcripts of Fromholz's ruling.
O'Keeffe, now 70, spent 35 years working at Inland churches. He was dismissed from all parish duties in 1994 after the San Bernardino Diocese settled a lawsuit brought by one of three adult women who had accused him of sexual misconduct, diocesan officials have said.
He returned to his native Ireland in 2002, weeks before San Bernardino County prosecutors charged him with 15 felony counts of oral copulation with a minor related to the Colorado woman's accusations. The charges were dropped because the statute of limitations had expired.
The retired priest also faces accusations of sexual abuse from three other women, including allegations that he fondled a 14-year-old girl in 1990 at St. Margaret Mary School in Chino.
Some of the accusers are identified in court documents. Their names are being withheld by The Press-Enterprise, which does not routinely identify people who may have been victims of sexual abuse.
Reach Michael Fisher at 951-368-9470 or mfisher@PE.com
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