$200,000 Priest Settlement Challenged
By Nancy Meersman
Union Leader (Manchester NH)
December 13, 2002
Goodwin, 23, is suing the Rev. Francis Talbot for allegedly sexually assaulting him over an eight-year span -- from the time Goodwin began doing chores and errands for Talbot at the age of eight until he grew big enough to fight him off.
James Connor, Talbot's lawyer, contends the settlement agreement blocks any action against the suspended priest.
Goodwin's lawyers, Charles Douglas and Kathleen Sullivan, at a hearing in Hillsborough County Superior Court yesterday sought to have Judge Philip Mangones rule that the agreement doesn't cover Talbot -- or rescind it altogether because Goodwin didn't realize he was signing his rights away.
Connor tried to keep the document confidential, but Donald Kennedy, representing The Union Leader, said the case was now in the public arena and under New Hampshire law court proceedings cannot be sealed without a compelling reason.
Connor said it should be kept private because Talbot was in "very serious straits .[yen].[yen]. in a hospital with a variety of illnesses, mental and physical, and is the subject of a very aggressive criminal investigation."
Talbot has not been allowed to function as a priest since November 2000, but he has not been formally defrocked. He was assigned to the state prison for 10 years and was once the chaplain for Catholic Medical Center.
After a lengthy discussion among the lawyers in the judge's chambers, the agreement was entered as an exhibit and became public.
Although up to 50 New Hampshire priests may have molested children over the past 40 years, only a small number of them can be prosecuted criminally because the statute of limitations has run out. It may not have run out in Talbot's case.
The Dec. 5, 2000, settlement agreement was signed by Goodwin, the Rev. Edward Arsenault, the Rev. John Quinn and notarized by lawyer Bradford Cook. But Talbot didn't sign it and wasn't present at the signing. His name appears twice in the four-page document.
Goodwin testified that when he signed it he had no lawyer and was under the influence of multiple mind-altering substances, both illegal and prescribed, and suffering from various psychological illnesses, including post traumatic stress syndrome.
He said he was taking anti-depressants, sleeping pills and mood stabilizers, smoking marijuana every morning and drinking apple jack all day. In addition, he said he was also abusing Ecstasy, cocaine and hallucinogenic mushrooms.
"I did it to sedate emotions I couldn't comprehend .[yen].[yen]. and for flashbacks," he said.
Goodwin said in the spring of 2000 he encountered Talbot by chance at the Shop[yen]'n Save supermarket. He said they chatted, but then the priest said something -- "Come over to my house and I'll pay you for it this time" -- that set off an emotional eruption. Goodwin said he started having flashbacks, couldn't sleep and began drinking heavily and taking drugs.
Goodwin testified that he was admitted to several hospitals on an emergency basis and made many suicide attempts by overdosing, electrocution and hanging.
Under cross-examination, Goodwin said he first approached the diocese "to alert them to the problem with Francis Talbot." He also acknowledged that he originally asked for $2,462,000 to settle the case.
Dr. Eric Mart, a psychologist, said after reviewing Goodwin's medical records, "I feel certain he was not functioning at the level of cognitive ability you see today" and he would "probably have been unable" to grasp the legal significance of the document he signed.
Mangones has two questions before him: Was Goodwin capable of realizing what he was signing? And does the agreement release Talbot from liability?
If the answer is "yes" to either of the questions, Goodwin's case is dead. If the answer is "no" to either question, Goodwin, who earlier dropped the Roman Catholic bishop as a party to the case, will be able to pursue his lawsuit against Talbot.
Mangones told the lawyers to schedule a further hearing on other legal issues in the case -- a hearing which might not be necessary -- if he decides, in the meantime, to uphold the settlement agreement.
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