Accuser Watches Trials Closely
Fremont Man Alleges Abuse by Priest, Awaits Decisions in Other Cases

By Melissa Evans
Tri Valley Herald [Fremont CA]
July 28, 2004

FREMONT -- He may not see the inside of a courtroom for more than a year, but a man suing the Diocese of Oakland alleging he was abused by a Fremont priest is pleased that other cases finally are being heard.

Across the state, people who say they were abused, and their lawyers, are closely watching the outcome of four Northern California priest abuse cases that many agree will set the ground rules for hundreds of other cases.

Former Fremont resident Dan McNevin says he is encouraged by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ronald Sabraw's willingness to begin the lengthy process of deciding on decades-old abuse claims.

"None of these issues have moved forward (in Southern California)," said McNevin, who said he was abused in the 1970s by the late Rev. James Clark of Corpus Christi Parish in Fremont. "This judge is trying to get these cases off his plate. I do see it as progress, but there's still a long way to go."

McNevin filed his lawsuit in December 2003, during a one-year window that state legislators gave to victims whose cases were too old to try under California law. Lawyers for the diocese had challenged the legality of the window.

Though the cases before Sabraw are far from resolved, lawyers say the judge has indicated that the window is constitutional.

That is "the single most important issue for the survivors," said Rick Simons, the attorney representing all 150 Northern California plaintiffs who have filed suit against the Roman Catholic Church. Each victim has an individual attorney, but cases in three regions of the state -- San Diego, Los Angeles and Northern California -- have been bundled together in order to resolve the broader legal issues that apply to all of them.

One of the cases before Sabraw involves former priest Stephen Kiesle, accused of molesting a boy at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Pinole and at Our Lady of the Rosary in Union City. Attorneys from the Diocese of Oakland, who are facing 42 cases of sex abuse, say it is impossible to defend such old claims -- particularly since many potential witnesses are dead.

Sabraw has invited further argument on the Kiesle case and others, and is expected to make a final decision on whether they can go forward at a hearing on Aug. 25. After that decision, Simons expects the judge to begin setting dates for the remainder of the Northern California cases in October. Even the cases that were ready for trial this month potentially could be put off until January, said Terry Gross, the attorney representing McNevin who also is involved in the current suit. The case against Clark would not be scheduled for a hearing potentially until next summer, he said.

Victims' advocates describe the delay as "gruesome."

"The people I've talked to say they are frustrated with how long this is taking," said Terrie Light, spokeswoman for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national group with offices in Oakland.

I'm not going anywhere, he said. When you're in litigation, you've got to learn to let go and trust the system.


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