MO- Crucial hearing tomorrow for unprecedented $1 mill award
By David Clohessy
Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests
July 22, 2014
Crucial court hearing is tomorrow
It involves embattled Catholic bishop
Judge may OK “ground-breaking” award
Arbitrator says 42 abuse victims to get $1.1 million
SNAP: “Top Catholic official broke his prevention contract”
Group encourages parishioners to attend court session on Wednesday
A Kansas City judge will hear arguments tomorrow about whether an unprecedented $1.1 million award to 42 clergy sex abuse victims should stand or be overturned.
Judge Bryan Round will hear lawyers for embattled KC Bishop Robert Finn claim that the sum should be tossed out because an arbitrator exceeded his authority during binding arbitration.
A support group for clergy sex abuse victims is urging local parishioners to attend the 10 a.m. hearing Wednesday in Division 8 of the Jackson County court.
The group applauds the arbitrator's award and agrees with the finding that Finn is guilty of "breach of contract."
Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, have called the award “ground-breaking.”
“As best we can tell, there's never been a case like this – anywhere in the U.S. - in which victims have successfully held a bishop responsible in court for breaking the promises he made during a settlement,” said David Clohessy, SNAP’s director. “And the amount of this award is significant because it may will deter more Catholic officials from breaking the promises they make to victims.”
In 2008, 47 victims settled child sex abuse and cover up lawsuits against Finn and his diocese. As part of that deal, they insisted that Finn commit to 19 non-economic child safety measures.
In October 2011, 44 of those victims formally charged that Finn broke many of those child safety measures, in part by keeping two credibly accused predator priests in ministry (Fr. James Tierney and Fr. Shawn Ratigan) and by not reporting suspicions and knowledge of child sex crimes promptly to law enforcement.
In March, an arbitrator – harshly criticizing KC Catholic officials – awarded $1.1 million to the victims.
“We suspect that hundreds of clergy sex abuse victims have reached settlements with Catholic officials that include child protection commitments,” said Clohessy. “We suspect that many of them have not been closely monitored.”
Clohessy says he hopes the arbitrator's award “will prompt many victims and their attorneys to look hard at whether these pledges are being kept. If bishops are breaking their promises, we hope victims will file more suits like this.”
“We hope this will also prod more victims to push hard for child safety provisions when they're discussing settlement possibilities,” said SNAP's Barbara Dorris. “Catholic officials would rather just write a check. But many victims find it more healing when they are able to force Catholic officials to formally pledge to take real abuse prevention steps.”
The group fears, however, that the arbitrator's outcome may make Catholic officials even more reluctant to agree to child safety measure when they settle abuse lawsuits.
“Finn's a smart man with plenty of smart lawyers and public relations advisers. He voluntarily signed this contract with victims, pledging to take steps to stop abuse and cover ups,” Clohessy said. “Finn broke that contract, repeatedly, rubbing even more salt into the already deep and still fresh wounds of dozens of struggling men and women who had already been sexually violated as kids by priests and re-victimized by callous Catholic officials.”
“Victims' courage and compassion made this contract happen,” said Dorris. “Now, victims' courage and compassion are enforcing it. Again, we applaud these brave men and women who are pioneering a new approach to deterring wrongdoing by holding wrongdoers responsible for their wrongdoing, even if they are powerful prelates.”
Catholics should “show up and hear exactly how their so-called spiritual leader clearly and repeatedly broke legally-binding child safety pledges he made to victims just a few years earlier,” Dorris emphasized. “Here's a chance for them to hear directly – and without filters or biases – both sides of this controversy. We hope at least some of them will attend.”
NOTE - Attorneys for the diocese include David Frye (firstname.lastname@example.org, 816-292-2000, 816-460-5726, 816-460-5732) and Mara Cohara (email@example.com, 816-292-2000, 816-460-5760, 816-460-5413). Finn's attorney is Spencer Brown (816-421-4000, http://www.deacylaw.com/ourattorneys/spencer-j-brown/
Attorneys for the victims include Rebecca Randles (816-510-2704 cell, firstname.lastname@example.org), Sarah Brown (913-269-6226 cell, 816-931-9901, email@example.com), both of Kansas City MO and Gregg Meyers of St. Paul MN (843-324-1589 cell, 651-227-9990, firstname.lastname@example.org).
The arbitrator is Hollis Hanover of Kansas City, MO (816-942-2204, email@example.com). According to his website he spent 20 years as an insurance defense trial lawyer and ten years representing plaintiffs.