Corporate Exec, Retired Judge to Award Settlement Money

By Paul A. Long
Cincinnati Post [Covington KY]
February 15, 2006

A top Cincinnati corporate executive and a retired federal judge will determine how much money each victim of priestly sexual abuse will receive in the $85 million settlement of a class action lawsuit against the Diocese of Covington.

During a hearing Tuesday in Boone Circuit Court, lawyers for both sides announced that William Burleigh, chairman of the board of the E.W. Scripps Co., which owns The Post, and Thomas D. Lambros of Ashtabula, Ohio, former chief judge in the Northern District of Ohio, will be the special masters of the settlement fund.

In that role, the pair will meet with those who filed claims, determine the validity of each claim, and award the victim a cash settlement in accordance with the settlement outline.

"My role is to do my part to try to bring equity and fairness to the final disposition of this case, and to help heal this awful wound," Burleigh said.

But that might not happen quickly.

Senior Judge John Potter of Louisville warned the 20 or so victims who sat in the courtroom that it could be six months to a year before they see any payments. He said the paperwork, insurance settlements and other details might take months to finalize.

Attorneys had hoped to begin awarding the cash payments - which will range from $5,000 to $450,000, depending on the nature of the abuse - sometime this summer.

Potter set a hearing for March 14 to review the plans for payment of the money.

He also rejected two people attorneys had proposed to oversee the masters and administer the payments. Potter said he did not want to choose between Louisville attorney Alex Rose and retired Kenton Circuit Judge Ray Lape because both are friends.

But he approved the appointments of Lambros and Burleigh.

Lambros, 76, served as a federal judge in northern Ohio from 1967 to 1995. For the last five of those years, he was chief judge, and the courthouse in Youngstown is named after him.

Burleigh, who lives in Rabbit Hash, Ky., has some familiarity with the issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. He was one of the initial members of the National Review Board, a 13-member panel of lay Catholics that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops created in 2002 to implement their new policy on handling priest sexual abuse.

The board issued a study in 2004 that painted an unflattering portrait of the U.S. Catholic Church as an institution in which thousands of young victims, mostly boys, were abused over the last half-century, and church leaders were either unable or unwilling to deal with the problem.

As he served on that board, Burleigh said he sat and listened to some horrid cases of abuse, including one in which a mother and father from Kansas talked about their son's committing suicide because of abuse.

Yet Burleigh remains a faithful Catholic. He attends All Saints Church in Walton, and he played a key role in bringing about the settlement of the lawsuit.

Carrie Huff, the attorney for the diocese, said Burleigh's ability to find common ground and his calm temperament were a great help at a critical point in the negotiations.

The lawsuit, filed in 2003, claimed a 50-year coverup of sexual abuse by priests and other employees of the diocese. The diocese agreed last year to put up $40 million to help settle the case.

Originally, insurance companies were to kick in another $80 million, but that figure was cut to $45 million when fewer victims than expected came forward.

On Tuesday, much of the full-day hearing was taken up with how much attorneys should be paid. Attorneys in the lawsuit - Stanley Chesley and Robert Steinberg, both of Cincinnati, Michael O'Hara of Crestview Hills, and Ann Oldfather of Louisville - said they deserve 30 percent of the money awarded.

A fifth attorney, Barbara Bonar of Covington, said she deserves a portion of that 30 percent for her work in the early stages of the lawsuit.

Chesley argued that in many such lawsuits, the attorneys get 33 to 40 percent. He and the others should be paid the 30 percent for the extraordinary amount of work done and the risk taken in filing the lawsuit, he said.

He said his firm has fronted more than $1 million in expenses.

More than a dozen of his clients testified under pseudonyms that the 30 percent fee was more than fair. They said the attorneys were hardworking, compassionate and went beyond simply seeking justice.

"They tried to do the right thing," said one.


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