Times Union [Albany NY]
July 13, 2022
By Brendan J. Lyons
The Albany diocese has warned it would likely file for bankruptcy if the cases begin going to trial
A Massachusetts attorney who oversaw the settlement of 552 cases of sexual abuse against the Archdiocese of Boston and a New York City attorney with extensive experience managing sexual misconduct funds have been selected to mediate hundreds of claims filed against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany under the Child Victims Act.
Paul A. Finn, who received a “lawyer of the year” award in 2003 for his work resolving the claims filed against the Boston archdiocese, and Simone Lelchuk, who specializes in mediation and allocation of settlement funds, were selected during negotiations this week between the Albany diocese and attorneys for roughly 440 victims who have filed claims.
The mediation timetable is expected to move swiftly as the Albany diocese has warned that it would likely file for bankruptcy if the cases begin going to trial as scheduled.
Last month, the diocese settled the first Child Victims Act case that had been scheduled for trial for $750,000. The next trial is scheduled for early September.
During a court conference Wednesday, Michael L. Costello, an attorney for the Albany diocese, clarified that the recent mediation plan proposed by the diocese — and rejected unanimously by the attorneys for the hundreds of plaintiffs — would not have halted pre-trial discovery and that the victims would not have been subjected to a confidentiality agreement if they want to go public with their cases.
“Any request for pause or injunction or stay on the cases on the calendar, we’re going to withdraw that and we’ll be guided by the direction of the mediators we’ve jointly agreed upon,” he added.
The group agreed to reconvene with state Supreme Court Justice L. Michael Mackey, who is presiding over the cases, for a status update in two weeks.
“By this hearing today we put on record that we all agree to this process,” said Jeffrey R. Anderson, one of the attorneys representing individuals who filed claims against the diocese. “We’ve selected the mediators and we’re ready to get going and get to work on it.”
The mediation plan that began taking shape this week would be similar to others that were used to settle cases with Catholic dioceses across the United States, including in California, to compensate victims of sexual abuse.
Costello and the plaintiffs’ attorneys had agreed to negotiate the selection of the two mediators, who will begin the process of establishing how much money will be available to compensate victims. That fund, which could likely be hundreds of millions of dollars, would be funded by the 14-county diocese, its parishes and its insurance carriers.
The plan envisioned by the attorneys is for a high percentage of the victims who have filed claims against the Albany diocese to agree to take part in the mediation plan. In Boston, the agreement had required at least 79 percent of the victims to sign onto the mediation plan for it to be adopted. (Attorneys said all of those plaintiffs eventually took part in the plan.) There would still be an option for some victims to opt out and take their cases to trial or engage in their own mediation.
For those who agree to take part in the mediation plan, arbitrators would review each case and decide — based on factors such as the level of sexual abuse and the damage it caused — how much individual victims should be paid. There would be a point system and limits set on the minimum and maximum compensation.
Jeffrey M. Herman, an attorney whose firm specializes in sexual abuse litigation, told the judge in an earlier conference that establishing the “pot of money” is the biggest imminent hurdle.
Costello has said the diocese also wants to provide compensation to alleged victims who were not able to find attorneys to take their cases.
Jack Cesare, a Florida resident who grew up in Albany and was allegedly sexually abused by a janitor at a Catholic elementary school, is representing himself in his claim against the diocese and participated in Wednesday’s hearing.
Cesare pressed Costello briefly during the court conference about the Vatican’s role in how the cases are settled. But Cesare was cut off by the judge, who noted he was pursuing topics unrelated to the mediation discussion and that he has a court conference in his case scheduled for later in the week.
Brendan J. Lyons is a managing editor for the Times Union overseeing the Capitol Bureau and investigations. Lyons joined the Times Union in 1998 as a crime reporter before being assigned to the investigations team. He became editor of the investigations team in 2013 and began overseeing the Capitol Bureau in 2017. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 518-454-5547.