|Jury Decides Priest Abused Two Teenagers
1970s Incidents - Jurors Award $1.385 Million against a Former Maclaren Worker
By Ashbel S. Green
The Oregonian [Portland]
May 17, 2007
A Portland jury said Wednesday that a Catholic priest sexually abused two teen-age boys at a state reform school in the 1970s and awarded them nearly $1.4 million.
The jury determined that the Rev. Michael Sprauer molested Robert Paul and Randy Sloan at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn in the 1970s.
The civil suit was the first Catholic priest sex-abuse case to go to trial in Oregon and one of the few that has reached a jury anywhere in the country.
The jury sided with the plaintiffs, despite their juvenile criminal records, substance abuse problems and defense accusations that they were making it all up.
"I proved that he was a child molester," Paul said after the verdict. "I proved that I was not lying."
Sloan criticized Sprauer, who attended the trial but skipped the reading of the verdict.
"He knew he was guilty," Sloan said. "He's definitely a coward."
Sprauer couldn't be reached for comment.
Bud Bunce, a spokesman for the Portland Archdiocese, defended the priest.
"We are saddened and disappointed that the jury did not find in favor of Father Michael Sprauer," Bunce said. "Father Sprauer has steadfastly maintained that these accusations were false, and we believe him because we know him."
The jury also ruled that Sprauer did not sexually abuse the two men's co-plaintiff, Norman Klettke.
Klettke said he was satisfied that Sloan and Paul won.
"I think it was a just verdict," Klettke said.
Dan Gatti, the Salem attorney who represented the three men, praised the jury for validating the claims of his clients.
"The jury will give them the apology that Michael Sprauer should have given them years ago," Gatti said.
The verdict included $185,000 in economic damages, $1 million in non-economic damages and $200,000 in punitive damages.
Sprauer, who was first sued in 2003, faces a dozen more lawsuits by men who accuse him of molesting them at MacLaren.
The lawsuits named Sprauer and the state of Oregon, which employed him at MacLaren and later at the state Department of Corrections.
The suits originally named the Portland Archdiocese, but it settled with the plaintiffs as part of a plan to emerge from bankruptcy.
The trial lasted about two weeks. Attorneys for Sprauer and the state accused the plaintiffs of cooking up their accusations as part of a scam.
Sprauer worked at MacLaren from 1972 to 1975, roughly at the time that Paul and Sloan claimed he abused them. Klettke, on the other hand, said Sprauer molested him in 1978, more than three years after the priest left MacLaren.
The verdict doesn't mean the plaintiffs will get paid any time soon -- or ever.
The state likely will appeal, which could take years. In addition, the state will argue that the jury's awards exceed the amount allowed under state law in civil cases.
Multnomah County Circuit Judge Marshall Amiton asked the jury to come back today to talk to them before formally accepting the verdict.
Reach Tony Green at firstname.lastname@example.org; 503 221-8202.
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