Judge tosses 4 claims for money
from diocese, weighs 1
By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star
October 5, 2005
Four claims by people seeking money from the Roman Catholic Diocese of
Tucson for incidents in which they allege wrongdoing by priests were thrown
Federal Bankruptcy Judge James M. Marlar considered five abuse claims
that were pending when the diocese emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy
protection Sept. 20.
All of the claims already had been rejected as not having legal merit
- including lack of evidence - by a tort creditors committee that reviewed
the cases of people seeking compensation from the local diocese.
Marlar rejected four of the claims and took one under advisement, that
of an incarcerated man who says he was abused by a member of the local
clergy when he was 7. The man, now 48, could not recall many details of
the abuse, including precisely where it occurred.
Of the four claims Marlar tossed, two were from claimants who did not
attend the hearing. One of the others, a woman in her 30s who has bipolar
disorder, took part in the hearing by telephone. The woman, now living
in Illinois, says a local priest made advances toward her when she was
24. Under questioning, she said the only sexual contact was a French kiss.
Marlar denied the claim.
"From a legal point of view, a French kiss is not illegal,"
he said. "I'm not a moral judge. I'm a legal judge."
The other claimant, a 52-year-old Tucson woman, was in court and told
Marlar she realized her claim does not rise to a legally sufficient level
to be monetarily compensated. The woman, who says she once wanted to be
a nun, says a priest made sexual advances toward her in 1985.
Tuesday's hearing likely will be one of the last times the diocese will
appear in front of Marlar on bankruptcy matters. The cases tossed Tuesday
can be appealed to a higher court. At least 12 other cases are pending
by claimants who had been offered settlement money but who weren't satisfied
with the amounts. Those cases are expected to be heard by recently retired
Pima County Superior Court Judge Lina Rodriguez, the court-appointed special
arbitrator in the case.
A trial over another diocesan case likely will be held in Bankruptcy Court
early next year. Former Catholic school teacher and accused child molester
Phillip Gregory Speers contends he was maliciously and falsely accused
of molesting girls in the second-grade class he taught at St. Francis
of Assisi Catholic School in Yuma, and he holds the diocese responsible.
Speers is in jail in Yuma, awaiting a retrial.
He is seeking an unspecified amount of money for what he says was damage
the diocese did to him. Diocese bankruptcy attorney Susan Boswell said
Speers will not get any money from the $22.3 million settlement pool set
aside for abuse victims. If Speers were to win his case, the money would
have to come from insurance under a separate category of employee claims.
? Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or at email@example.com.
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