Salem Attorney Who Represented Maclaren Sex-abuse Victims Receives 90-day Law Suspension
By Aimee Green
August 22, 2014
|The Oregon Supreme Court suspended Salem attorney Daniel Gatti for 90 days. (Oregon Judicial Department)|
The Oregon Supreme Court has suspended the license of a Salem attorney for 90 days because of the way he communicated with his clients as he divided up a settlement fund for victims of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest.
The high court found on Thursday that Daniel J. Gatti violated professional rules of conduct by failing to properly explain and receive permission from the sex-abuse victims, his clients, when he represented them as a group. Gatti represented 15 men who as youths decades ago had been incarcerated at the MacLaren Home for Boys and said that they were molested by the facility’s chaplain, the Rev. Michael Sprauer.
Gatti represented the victims from 2001 to 2007 -- settling most of their cases with the Archdiocese of Portland for $600,000 and, later, the State of Oregon for about $1.05 million. He took three cases against the state to trial -- garnering jury verdicts of $590,000 for one plaintiff, $595,000 for another plaintiff and no money for the third.
Although Gatti said he was going to divide up the state settlement proportionately to how he divided up the archdiocese settlement, he didn’t do that, according to a supreme-court summary of the case.
One of the sex-abuse victims -- who was serving a 27-year sentence for burglary, kidnapping, sodomy and menacing -- had said he had accept a $7,500 settlement from the archdiocese because he knew he wouldn’t be sympathetic to a jury. Gatti gave him $7,500 of the $600,000 archdiocese settlement. But Gatti also gave him $7,500 of the $1.05 million state settlement -- not a proportionate amount.
That sex-abuse victim was quoted as saying in the Supreme Court summary: that he was “a little surprised that I only received from the State (after your win in court) the same amount as the Church offered.” The man added, however, “that’s what I get for being in jail.”
Gatti couldn't immediately be reached for comment Friday. Attorney Michael Smith, who works for the same firm as Gatti, said Gatti has been on medical leave for the past two years. Smith said Gatti respects the high court's opinion -- and agrees with it that he did nothing "dishonest or self-serving."
The high court's summary of the case states that Gatti defended himself by saying he kept his clients informed during the settlement process. Gatti also said he secured the necessary permission he needed to proceed as he had.
The supreme court found that Gatti had violated the following professional rules: failing to explain matters to the extent reasonably necessary to allow clients to make informed decisions; failing to secure clients' informed consent before engaging in representation that constituted a current conflict of interest; and failing to secure clients' informed consent before participating in aggregate settlement of their claims.
An Oregon State Bar disciplinary board earlier had found that Gatti had violated a fourth rule: engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation that reflected adversely on fitness to practice law. But the Oregon Supreme Court determined Gatti hadn’t violated that rule.
The disciplinary board determined Gatti should be suspended for six months, but the high court lowered that to 90 days.
Justices Rives Kistler and Virginia Linder didn’t participate in this case.
Gatti’s 90-day suspension will begin in October. He has been a lawyer in Oregon for more than 40 years.