Appeal Deadline Lapses in Janssen Case

By Todd Ruger
Quad-City Times [Davenport IA]
July 20, 2005

A former priest with the Catholic Diocese of Davenport apparently has missed his chance to appeal a $1.9 million civil judgment in a lawsuit alleging he sexually abused his nephew years ago.

A district court judge on June 17 denied a motion for a new trial by James Janssen, 83, starting a clock that gave him 30 days to appeal a case watched by attorneys as a legal bellwether for similar lawsuits in Iowa.

At the end of the day Monday, no appeal had been filed.

"We're satisfied that there is now a finality," said Craig Levien, attorney for plaintiff James Wells and other men who filed sexual abuse lawsuits against Janssen. "It's vindication for the victims who stood up and told their stories."

Janssen, who was an active priest in the diocese from 1948-1990, could not be reached for comment Tuesday by the Quad-City Times. A woman identifying herself as Janssen's sister answered the door at the residence Janssen gave for himself at the trial and said Janssen had moved.

His attorney, Edward Wehr, refused to comment Tuesday, citing his withdrawal from the similar lawsuits pending against Janssen and his long-standing policy of not commenting about the case to the Times.

Wehr, who represented Janssen during the trial in May, was allowed to withdraw from the cases pending against Janssen after telling the judge "that irreconcilable differences have transpired between attorney and client so it is impossible for the undersigned to adequately represent this defendant."

Wells was the first to attach his name to a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by Janssen during an emerging scandal at the Davenport Diocese in 2003.

Since then, Janssen has been removed from the priesthood by the Vatican, faced similar lawsuits filed by seven other men and been identified by the diocese as a major perpetrator in 37 similar claims it agreed to settle for $9 million.

A psychiatrist testified that the abuse caused Wells' severe post-traumatic stress disorder and left him unable to work, hold a job, maintain a relationship or file a lawsuit until a new combination of prescription drugs he received in 2003 made him feel the best he ever had.

Janssen testified twice during the trial — admitting from the witness stand on one day that he sexually abused Wells before recanting that admission the next day — while his attorney argued that letters sent in the late 1980s from Wells to Janssen helped show the plaintiff was able to file his lawsuit at that time.

"All the idea that he never got his trial from the pope, and he never had his day in court, all of those arguments are now moot," Levien said Tuesday. "He had the right to call all the witnesses he wanted to and cross-examine ours."

The courts reduced the judgment against Janssen by $472,000, the amount Wells received in the settlement with the diocese.

Levien said three lawsuits remain against Janssen, but he doesn't know yet whether those will go to trial or be dismissed by the plaintiffs.

"I don't know whether it would be valuable to proceed to trial," Levien said. "It makes less sense after the finality of today's judgment.

"He owes his life savings to a victim of his actions."


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