So Much for "Zero Tolerance"
July 18, 2014
My name is Larry Drivon and I was the lead plaintiff's attorney in the case of Rocha vs the Diocese of Fresno and Rev. Eric Swearingen.
I have seen the piece that you wrote on his elevation to a new position in Visalia ("Visalia's new pastor," published July 11). There are a few more facts that were not included in your article.
Juan Rocha was, after his early problem with the Marine Corps, able to not only join the U.S. Army, but achieved the rank of E-7 in only seven years. That is a very rare accomplishment. His status, standing and rank in the Army was attested to his Command Sgt. Major who was one of the highest ranking enlisted men in the U.S. Army. He testified that not only would he trust his life to Sgt. Rocha, but he had. It was established that Sgt. Rocha was a member of an elite Army group which could not be further identified. To question Sgt. Rocha's integrity, honesty or commitment to his country is an abomination, and to suggest that he was decorated with fraudulent awards is to accuse him of a federal crime which would have been a salacious fact at the time if it had been true. To suggest that now is the act of a coward. Juan Rocha is an American Hero, and that fact was confirmed by his commanding officer who testified. I will not sit by and allow his honesty or veracity to come into question. The jury came down on his side.
Next, the jury did not find that it was "likely" that the abuse happened, the jury determined with their verdict that the abuse had occurred. It was not unanimous, but under our system of justice it need not be. The fact was established. Following the verdict, the Bishop suggested that binding arbitration would be his preferred next step.
Sgt. Rocha agreed, having endured the agony of having it displayed to the world that his first sexual experience was at the hands of a Catholic priest. Sgt. Rocha is now married with children.
The arbitration did take place, and the Diocese picked the arbitrator, and we agreed to allow any evidence that the Diocese wanted to use to be used. The Diocese requested, and we agreed to keeping the arbitration result confidential, but I can say that there was a 26-page written decision following several full days of arbitration. The arbitrator was retired Judge Ronald Sabraw, the Bishop's choice. I can also say that the arbitration was binding, and that the Diocese thereafter paid a very large award. That was not a voluntary act, and by definition the fact that the Diocese was required to pay, and did so, required a finding not only that the molestation had occurred as alleged, but also that the Diocese had prior notice of Rev Swearingen's "problem.
I would be more than pleased to release a copy of Judge Sabraw's findings and award if the Diocese will allow it. I think your readers would find it interesting.
What is interesting to me is that although the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has adopted a "zero tolerance" policy should there be an allegation that is merely "credible," here we have a situation where not only a jury, but also a highly regarded mediator have found Rev. Eric Swearingen to have been a molester of children, and yet the Diocese of Fresno continues to place him in positions of high responsibility including pastor, and head of the Catholic High School.
So much for zero tolerance.