Fugitive Priest Misses Another Court Date, Losing Lawsuit
By Virginia Hennessey
Monterey County Herald
June 16, 2013
|The Rev. Antonio Cortes appears in court with his attorney J. Hernandez|
It won't likely put a dime in his pocket, but the man molested as a teenager by fugitive priest Antonio Cortes won an emotional victory on Friday.
Judge Thomas Wills sanctioned Cortes for failing to appear for the second time in a lawsuit filed by "John Doe," striking the priest's original answer that denied the allegations in the case.
The ruling wipes the slate clean, as though Cortes never responded to the lawsuit, and clears the way for the victim to claim a default judgment and damages against the priest, who is believed to be in Mexico.
The plaintiff's attorney, Chris Lavorato, said he will ask Wills to award his client between $5 million and $10 million within the next 60 days.
Lavorato said he realizes the likelihood his client will see any of the money is nil, but it would hang a judgment over Cortes' head and help heal a wound in the victim's heart.
"For my client to have read Father Cortes' denials was a knife in his heart," Lavorato said of the priest's original answer to the lawsuit, filed after he pleaded no contest and served jail time for the molestations but before he fled to Mexico.
"Effectively, that answer, that contained all those denials, is gone," said Lavorato, of the Burlingame law firm of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy. "That's vindication of heinous conduct."
Cortes was arrested in April 2009 after the victim, who was 16, reported he was sexually assaulted during a "spiritual massage" in the rectory of St. Mary of the Nativity
Church in Salinas, where Cortes was pastor.
"Father Antonio" pleaded no contest in March 2012 to felony charges of sodomy involving a minor and possession of child pornography, as well as 12 misdemeanor counts including child molestation, child endangerment, furnishing alcohol to a minor and committing lewd acts in the presence of a minor.
He served seven months of a one-year jail sentence and was released on probation in December 2012. He was expected to be deported to Mexico but was released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement after agents were told his case was on appeal.
He immediately fled, reportedly to his home state of Jalisco, Mexico, absconding from requirements that he report to his probation officer and register as a sex offender.
In the meantime, he filed an answer to John Doe's civil lawsuit, denying he molested the boy.
The Diocese of Monterey was named in the lawsuit. It quietly settled with the plaintiff three months ago. Lavorato and diocese spokesman Warren Hoy said the amount of the settlement was confidential.