Supreme Court Will Hear Davenport Diocese Case
By Todd Ruger
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
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
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
“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,”
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,”
Todd Ruger can be contacted at (563) 383-2493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.