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  Diocese Will Ask State to Streamline Sex-Abuse Lawsuits
New Claims Filed on Behalf of 2 Women

By Sandi Dolbee and Susan Gembrowski
San Diego Union-Tribune
February 12, 2003

As two more sexual abuse lawsuits were filed involving former priests, the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego announced yesterday it will petition the state's top judge to bring together all local claims in one San Diego County courtroom. "We believe that coordination of the cases may be a good vehicle so we can resolve the victims' claims fairly and quickly," said Rodrigo Valdivia, the diocese's chancellor.

"We've been told that coordination streamlines the process and makes it easier to resolve the claims." There is a similar move to coordinate lawsuits in Los Angeles and Orange counties as the national scandal of priests sexually abusing children enters its second year. As for the most recent claims, a former priest from San Diego and a priest from San Bernardino who is now deceased are accused of sexual abuse that occurred several decades ago. A woman identified only as Patty M. alleges she was 15 when she was molested by former priest James T. Booth at Mission San Diego de Alcala between 1969 and 1970, said lawyer Anthony De Marco. De Marco is with the Beverly Hills law firm Kiesel Boucher & Larson, which filed the lawsuit yesterday in San Diego County Superior Court. The other suit was filed in San Bernardino County and the alleged victim said she was 13 when she was abused between 1959 and 1960 by the Rev. Franz Robier at St. Anthony Roman Catholic Church, De Marco said.

The lawsuit includes the San Diego diocese because the two regions were under one jurisdiction until 1978. These actions do not name the defendants outright, which is standard procedure, but the attorney identified the priests as Robier and Booth. Booth made headlines in 1971 when he left the Catholic priesthood after 25 years and married a San Diego State University student whom he met after Mass one day at the mission.

He was 49 and she was 19 when they were wed. Booth went on to become an Episcopal priest.

Booth is now 81 and living in retirement in the Central Valley.

He did not return phone calls yesterday. Robier was ordained in 1936 and served in several parishes, including Holy Spirit Church in San Diego and St. John the Evangelist in Encinitas.

He retired in 1982 and died in 1994. Both lawsuits were filed as class-action claims, meaning anyone who says they were sexually abused by a priest in San Diego or San Bernardino can come forward and be added to them, said Beverly Hills lawyer Raymond Boucher. Regarding the coordination petition, a Costa Mesa lawyer who has filed several lawsuits against the Catholic Church in Southern California said she doesn't understand why San Diego cases can't be heard with those filed in Los Angeles and Orange counties. "San Diego would like to take the position they are separate from Los Angeles and they are going to have to show why that is," Venus Soltan said. Coordination can drastically streamline the process for both sides, with attorneys sharing diocesan records and church officials avoiding duplication of effort. Boucher doesn't favor statewide coordination but does think separating cases by diocese makes sense. "Victims have waited for their opportunity for justice to confront the church long enough," he said.

"I think the coordination of cases in sister jurisdictions where there is an overlap of claims . . . it certainly makes sense to bring those together." The country's leading victims rights group, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, has not taken an official position on coordination, said David Clohessy, national executive director. San Diego's SNAP representative, Mark Brooks, said victims here have mixed feelings. "There's a lot of apprehension," Brooks said.

 
 

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