Alleged Victim Plans to Sue Priest
By Terrie Morgan-besecker
August 8, 2014
|MADDIE ROSE / TIMES-SHAMROCK Suspended priest the Rev. Phil Altavilla, left, walks into the Lackawanna County Courthouse with his attorney Paul Walker in May.|
The woman who alleged she was indecently assaulted by the Rev. Philip Altavilla when she was a teenager filed notice she intends to sue him and the Diocese of Scranton.
Joseph Lenahan, attorney for the woman, filed a writ of summons on Aug. 1, the same day Lackawanna County Judge Michael Barrasse dismissed all criminal charges against the suspended priest because the statute of limitations had expired.
A summons puts a defendant on notice of a pending lawsuit, but does not provide any details of the claims being made. Lenahan confirmed the lawsuit relates to allegations in the criminal case that the Rev. Altavilla inappropriately touched the woman in 1998, when she was 13.
The Rev. Altavilla was charged in April with indecent assault, corruption of a minor and a related offense after the woman alleged he gave her alcohol and ran his hands up and down her legs following a midnight Mass. Barrasse dismissed all counts because the statute of limitations required the crimes be reported within two years after the woman turned 18, which meant the charges had to be filed by 2005.
Lenahan on Thursday said he believes the woman can still bring the lawsuit because the statute of limitations is different for a civil case.
He acknowledged that issue is a matter of interpretation of the law and may be challenged.
The Rev. Altavilla’s alleged assault had a “profound” effect that caused problems in his client’s life, Lenahan said. He said she was upset by the dismissal of the criminal case, but she understood that was a possibility based on the law. The lawsuit provides her another avenue to have her case heard by a court.
“We want to make sure (she), at least on the civil side, gets her day in court,” Lenahan said.
Attorney Paul Walker, who represented the Rev. Altavilla in the criminal case, said he is aware of the lawsuit, but has not yet researched whether the statute of limitations has expired.
Bill Genello, spokesman for the Diocese of Scranton, declined comment on the suit.
In a related matter, Lenahan on Monday filed a motion seeking a court order that would direct prosecutors to preserve evidence in the criminal case.
Lenahan said he filed the motion to guard against the possibility the evidence may be destroyed or turned over to the Rev. Altavilla now that the criminal case has concluded. He noted no order has been issued that would allow for that. He filed the motion out of an abundance of caution to ensure his client’s rights are protected.