Priest Sex Abuse Victim Finally Gets More of $900,000 Settlement from His Portland Lawyers
By Aimee Green
April 20, 2013
|The Rev. Thomas Laughlin, in a 1981 yearbook photo, was kicked out of the priesthood in 1983 after being convicted of molesting boys. |
Ten years after a man secured a $900,000 settlement for abuse as a child by one of Oregon's most notorious pedophile priests, an ugly battle over how much his attorneys got to keep is finally over.
The man's case came to light two years ago after he filed a lawsuit saying that his attorneys claimed $877,000 of his settlement, leaving him with just $23,000. The news stirred public outrage -- and deeply embarrassed the legal community, which constantly fights the stereotype of greedy, money-grabbing lawyers.
But since then, the man known only as G.B. has managed to recover $225,000. And though he's better off than he was before, that's far short of the $600,000 he should have gotten if his attorneys had taken only the standard fee of 33 percent.
"It's just a travesty," said Richard A. Weill, a volunteer trial attorney for the Oregon State Bar.
The bar investigated and pursued ethics charges against two Portland attorneys associated with the case -- Frederick T. Smith and Jeffrey Boly -- during a disbarment trial in February. A ruling is expected next month.
Weill said for years, Smith and Boly lied to the man and manipulated him -- a vulnerable adult who relies on Social Security disability checks for his livelihood and who has lifetime psychological injuries from the abuse he suffered as a child.
The man -- identified in court papers by his initials -- trusted the attorneys because Boly was a longtime family friend and Boly introduced him to Smith, Weill said.
G.B. was molested while he was a student at All Saints School in Northeast Portland by the Rev. Thomas Laughlin, who eventually admitted to molesting dozens of boys and was removed from the priesthood.
Twists in the case
The details of the case are convoluted:
In 2001, G.B. hired attorney Michael "Mickey" Morey to represent him in a civil suit against the Archdiocese of Portland. Morey worked on the case for 2 1/2 years and got a $650,000 settlement offer from the archdiocese. Morey continued to negotiate for a higher amount, but in 2003, G.B. fired Morey and hired Smith.
Three days later, Smith attended his first negotiation session with the archdiocese and obtained the $900,000 settlement.
"Mr. Smith's entire contribution was showing up to one mediation session and that was it," Weill said. Smith hadn't even read G.B.'s file before the mediation session, Weill said.
Smith took a third of the settlement -- or $300,000 -- as his fee. But Morey believed he was due most of that fee because he'd done almost all of the work leading up to the settlement. But Smith wouldn't share.
Morey pursued the only legal avenue he had: suing his former client to recover the fee. In 2004, Multnomah County Circuit Judge John Wittmayer ruled that Morey should get $300,000 of the settlement.
The bar investigation concluded that Smith and Boly encouraged G.B. to appeal to the Oregon Court of Appeals and then the Oregon Supreme Court. The appeals court sided with Morey. The Supreme Court refused to rule on the case.
The years of additional litigation cost G.B. dearly. He was ordered to pay Morey about $560,000. That included Morey's original $300,000 fee, interest and Morey's costs to hire an attorney to pursue the fee.
On top of that, Smith kept the $300,000 he thought he was due. Boly didn't receive any money.
In January 2011, G.B. filed a lawsuit against Smith and Boly, trying to recover more than the $23,000 that was left for him when all was said and done.
G.B. then settled with Smith for about $140,000 after his new attorneys collected their fees -- but the settlement didn't cost Smith anything out of his own pocket. Smith's malpractice coverage paid.
This week, during the first day of trial before a Multnomah County jury, G.B. settled with Boly for $37,000 after he paid additional attorneys their fees. Boly paid for some of the settlement, but an insurance company paid for most.
In all, G.B. will walk away with about $225,000 from his settlements with Smith and Boly -- including the $23,000 he already had and the value of a $24,000 car that the pair had previously given him.
"Though he didn't get all that he'd lost, he got some justice," said Jan Wyers, a Portland attorney who represented G.B. during this week's trial.
G.B. didn't respond to a request for an interview.
Smith also couldn't be reached for comment because he is in hospital with chronic health problems.
But Boly defended both himself and Smith, saying G.B. was unhappy with Morey's services and it took Smith's skill as a negotiator to get the $900,000 settlement. Boly said Morey wasn't entitled to the fees he eventually won.
Morey, however, noted that the Oregon State Bar dismissed an ethics complaint filed against him by Smith, determining it was without merit. And, he said, a Multnomah County judge and the Court of Appeals sided with him. What's more, he said, the bar prosecuted Smith and Boly for disbarment.
Weill, the trial attorney for the bar, said he sees Morey as a victim because Smith and Boly attacked his good name.
But the ultimate victim was G.B., Weill said.
"After he was violated in his youth, after suffering so much pain throughout his life, he's violated by these two men who he so trusted," Weill said.