Appeals Court Upholds Dismissal of 'Priest Abuse' Lawsuit

Associated Press State & Local Wire
September 13, 2003

The Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a onetime altar boy's lawsuit alleging that a Catholic priest in Lexington sexually abused him and that diocesan officials covered it up.

A three-judge panel split 2-1 on Friday in siding with a lower court ruling that Will L. McGinnis III waited too long to sue the Covington and Lexington dioceses.

McGinnis claimed the Rev. Bill Fedders abused him in 1983 or 1984 at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington and that diocesan officials concealed information. Lexington was part of the Covington Diocese at the time.

McGinnis first discussed the allegation with then-Bishop J. Kendrick Williams and hired an attorney in 1993. He suggested a $200,000 settlement in 1994, but the diocese offered only to pay for counseling, which McGinnis rejected in 1995. McGinnis sued, representing himself, in 2002.

Writing for the appeals court, Chief Judge Tom Emberton of Edmonton said lawsuits over child sexual abuse or assault usually must occur within five years of the crime or the victim's 18th birthday.

"McGinnis filed his action well beyond the time periods specified" in Kentucky law, Emberton's opinion said.

The last act of alleged abuse occurred in 1984, and McGinnis turned 18 in 1987. "At the time McGinnis filed his action he knew, or should have known, of the abuse as evidenced by his 1993 letters sent to Bishop Williams and the hiring of counsel," the opinion said.

Senior Judge John D. Miller of Owensboro joined in the opinion. The dissenter, Judge Wilfrid A. Schroder of Covington, said he would send the case back to Fayette Circuit Court to at least allow a hearing into whether diocesan officials knew of other abuse by Fedders and concealed it.

Also Friday, the appeals court upheld a disciplinary case in which the former police chief of Lawrenceburg was demoted to patrolman for incompetence and an accumulation of minor infractions.

Jimmie Lee Hawkins, who had been hired as a police officer in 1982 and elevated to chief in 1999, sued the city and Mayor Gary Chilton for "wrongful discharge," among other things, in 2000.

Hawkins tried and failed to stop a disciplinary hearing before the City Council, which demoted him and suspended him without pay for six months. The Anderson Circuit Court upheld the council.


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