Kc Priest Lawsuit Dismissed – for Now
By Judy L. Thomas
Kansas City Star
October 29, 2012
Lawyers on Tuesday dismissed a sexual abuse lawsuit against three Catholic priests in a two-year-old case that captured national attention.
But the case is far from over.
Instead, it is being put on hold while lawyers ask an appeals court to reinstate the local Catholic diocese as a defendant. After that, plaintiff John Doe B.P. plans to re-file the lawsuit and resume litigation.
The delay also gives a reprieve to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which had been ordered to turn over records in the case. A hearing had been scheduled for Tuesday at which Jackson County Circuit Judge Ann Mesle was to decide whether the group’s national director was in contempt of court for failing to produce records in the case.
Rebecca Randles, the plaintiff’s attorney, said she will appeal Mesle’s dismissal of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese from the lawsuit. Mesle dismissed the diocese in July, citing recent court rulings that have held that the diocese could not be considered liable if abuse occurred off church property. Randles said she also hopes to get guidance in this case from the Missouri Supreme Court that also can apply to about two dozen other pending priest sex abuse lawsuits. She said she expects to get a ruling before most of the cases go to trial.
Mesle said at Tuesday’s brief hearing that she wasn’t surprised at the action.
“I wondered if this step might be taken,” she said.
The lawsuit, filed in Jackson County Circuit Court in 2010, alleges that the Rev. Michael Tierney abused John Doe B.P. at age 13 in the 1970s. The suit alleges that the priest fondled and groped the boy after asking him to move furniture at Tierney’s mother’s house.
Two more Kansas City priests, Monsignor Thomas O’Brien and Thomas Reardon, later were added as defendants. All three are the subjects of multiple lawsuits alleging sexual abuse, and all have denied wrongdoing. Tierney was removed from pastoral duties last year, Reardon left the priesthood in the 1980s and O’Brien is retired and restricted from the ministry.
Tierney’s attorney, Brian Madden, said the defendants had no say in the dismissal.
“The plaintiff can choose to dismiss without prejudice once and refile whenever they want,” he said, as long as it’s before a trial begins.
The diocese declined comment.
The case attracted widespread attention last year when lawyers representing Tierney and the diocese insisted on deposing SNAP leader David Clohessy. Defense lawyers wanted to know whether SNAP had been coaching victims and potential plaintiffs on the controversial topic of repressed memory — something SNAP denied.
Mesle ordered Clohessy to turn over a broad swath of records, including more than two decades of email correspondence with victims, police, reporters and others.
SNAP appealed, unsuccessfully, to the Missouri Supreme Court. Clohessy submitted to the deposition in January but declined to answer many questions or provide most of the records. He eventually turned over hundreds of pages, but the defense lawyers said the records were heavily redacted and incomplete and asked the judge to find Clohessy in contempt.
The lawsuit’s dismissal means that at least for now, Clohessy will not have to provide more documents.
Randles said John Doe B.P. wasn’t dismissing the case to protect SNAP.
“SNAP isn’t off the hook by this at all,” she said.
SNAP issued a statement Tuesday praising John Doe B.P.’s action.
“We applaud this brave KC victim who is withdrawing his suit today but trying to hold … Catholic officials responsible by appealing to a higher court,” it said. “This is a tiny step forward in protecting the privacy of victims, witnesses, whistleblowers, journalists, police, prosecutors and parishioners who seek our help, protect children and expose predators.”