Supreme Court Will Hear Davenport Diocese Case

By Todd Ruger
Quad-City Times
October 27th, 2004

The Iowa Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to hear arguments on whether two men alleging sexual abuse by priests from the Catholic Diocese of Davenport failed to file their lawsuits in a timely manner.

The order means the diocese can argue why the lawsuits over decades-old allegations of abuse — filed by a plaintiff named James Wells and by a man identified only as John Doe III — should be dismissed before coming to trial according to a statute that bars old cases from being filed.

However, another order filed Tuesday by the state’s highest court did not grant a request from the diocese to postpone a trial scheduled to begin Monday in a similar case filed a man identified as John Doe IA.

The diocese has said it will stop that case from going to trial by either settling out of court or filing for bankruptcy.

“The big picture remains: We’d like to settle with these folks,” diocese attorney Rand Wonio said after reading the Supreme Court orders.

The diocese had hoped a Supreme Court order postponing the trials would give it time to work out settlements with plaintiffs and its insurance company, he said.

Wonio and Craig Levien, an attorney representing at least 37 men alleging abuse by priests in the eastern Iowa diocese, said settlement negotiations are taking place.

“We’re continuing to make progress,” Levien said Tuesday.

Wonio said the negotiations boil down to how much the insurance company for the diocese agrees to contribute to a settlement fund.

The diocese asked the Supreme Court in August to review District Judge C.H. Pelton’s decision that a jury should decide whether the plaintiffs qualify for possible exemptions in the statute that bars old cases from being filed.

While the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in the appeal with Wells and John Doe III on an expedited basis, it declined the appeal in regards to lawsuits filed by John Doe IA and another plaintiff named Donald Green.

Wonio and Levien agreed that the diocese’s legal arguments, which used either letters written or deposition statements made by plaintiffs to claim they knew years earlier of any relationship between the plaintiffs’ mental illness and sexual abuse by priests, were similar in both of the appeals.

“Why they drew an apparent distinction between the two, I don’t know,” Wonio said.

Levien said the Supreme Court’s decision shows it agreed with Pelton’s decision that a jury should decide whether fraudulent concealment by church officials or mental illness prevented John Doe IA and Green from filing their lawsuits in a timely manner.

“That would seem to me to indicate they are not so troubled by the district court judge’s rule that the cases should not go forward,” Levien said.

The Supreme Court does not often agree to hear appeals before cases go to trial, the two attorneys said.

“They’re rare enough that it’s usually a waste of time,” Wonio added.

Todd Ruger can be contacted at (563) 383-2493 or


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.