Archdiocese makes case for hiring special counsel a week before trial on church assets to pay sex abuse claims

Guam Daily Post

February 11, 2022

By Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

The Archdiocese of Agana’s legal team on Friday morning made the case to hire a special counsel, a week before the start of a trial on a lawsuit seeking to include the assets of Catholic parishes and schools to help pay clergy sex abuse claimants.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood heard oral arguments from the archdiocese, the U.S. Trustee, and the creditors committee representing mostly abuse claimants in the archdiocese’s bankruptcy case.

The judge is expected to soon issue a written order.

At the center of the hearing is the archdiocese’s last-minute motion to employ the Camacho Calvo Law Group as special counsel.

The Camacho Calvo Law Group used to represent only the 33 Catholic parishes and schools on Guam but the court ruled in July 2021 that the archdiocese, parishes and schools “are one and the same.”

But the Camacho law firm continued to represent the schools and parishes even after that ruling, until the U.S. Trustee and the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors formally brought this to the attention of the court, among other things. 

Archdiocese attorney Ford Elsaesser, during Friday’s hearing, said it will be “extremely difficult” for the archdiocese to try the case without the Camacho’s group because attorneys Vince Camacho and Geri Diaz worked extensively and enormously on the preparation of the witness list, among other things.

The trial is set to start on Feb. 18.

The archdiocese, in its bankruptcy case, has been shielding the multimillion-dollar assets of parishes and schools from becoming a part of its estate that would be used to compensate clergy sex abuse claimants.

Some 270 individuals said they were sexually molested or raped by priests and other clergy, including former Archbishop Anthony Apuron, when they were minors.

Assistant U.S. Trustee Curtis Ching, via Zoom, told the court that the debtor created the “difficult situation” that everyone is in right now, for submitting its special counsel employment application too late, instead of last summer.

Creditors committee attorney Edwin Caldie, personally in the courtroom on Friday morning, said the issues were laid out to the debtor last year so any issue not addressed after that is “at the feet of the debtor” and “should not be at the feet of the court making a decision under duress,” as well as other parties.

Caldie said the committee joins the U.S. Trustee’s comments, including empathy for the Camacho group for its work particularly prior to July 2021.

But Caldie said the debtor saying it really needs the Camacho group at trial should not be a relevant consideration. Joining Caldie in the courtroom is fellow committee attorney Andrew Glasnovich.

‘Pragmatic’ solution

The judge asked the U.S. Trustee and the committee on the idea of limiting the Camacho group’s work to the preparation and presentation of the witnesses.

Ching said it’s a pragmatic solution to the difficult situation, but said the U.S. Trustee’s concerns remain, which is that of the Camacho group’s potential conflicts as well as its employment application retroactive to July 16. 

He said this will allow the parties to move forward with the trial.

Tydingco-Gatewood last week said she’s inclined to deny the application to employ the Camacho Calvo Law Group unless the debtor’s application is amended to reflect that such employment is for the debtor.

“The court will not tolerate debtor’s blatant disregard of the court’s ruling dated July 16, 2021, nor will it allow debtor to re-litigate this issue,” the judge wrote in a Feb. 1 order.

The archdiocese amended its application.

The U.S. Trustee, in its Feb. 9 filing, said should the court find the Camacho group eligible for employment with the debtor, the approval should be effective as of the date of the original application, Jan. 20, 2022.

On Friday morning, the judge also presided over pre-trial motions, including the creditors’ motion in limine to exclude certain publications as hearsay.

The judge has ruled on other pre-trial motions.

This story will be updated.