Court Retracts Ruling to Hear Sex Abuse Cases

By Frank Santiago and Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register
October 28, 2004

"Oops" was the ruling from Iowa's highest court Wednesday.

The Iowa Supreme Court announced it made a mistake Tuesday when it said it would hear an appeal of a district judge's decision not to dismiss two sex abuse lawsuits against the Davenport Catholic Diocese.

Actually, the court decided against hearing the appeal, said spokeswoman Becky Colton.

She explained: Clerks routinely prepare two orders for the justices - one saying an appeal is granted and the other saying it is denied. Typing both orders speeds the process, she said.

When Justice David Wiggins went through several orders in various cases prepared by the staff, he signed the wrong order granting the appeal.

"He takes full responsibility. It was an honest mistake," said Colton. She said the error was likely a first of its kind for the court.

"I don't recall this happening before," Colton said.

Neither Wiggins nor Chief Justice Louis Lavorato was available for comment.

The court quickly issued another order Wednesday - also signed by Wiggins - correcting the mistake.

The revised order dashes church officials' hope that two of the 18 lawsuits alleging sex abuse by priests might be dismissed on appeal.

Rand Wonio, Davenport diocese attorney, was puzzled by the court's explanation. He said the order he got Tuesday didn't seem to be a fill-in-the-blanks form.

Craig Levien, attorney for a majority of the men suing the diocese alleging they were molested by priests, believes the reversed ruling is significant.

"It is an implied ruling that shows the justices believe these cases should be tried," Levien said.

Both sides said they are continuing to negotiate toward a settlement.


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