Five Cases against Priests Get 2007 Trial Dates

By Mark Sauer
Union-Tribune [California]
October 18, 2006

Nicki Rister said she was 17 when the parish priest, the Rev. Patrick O'Keeffe, coaxed her into having sex. The year was 1972, and Rister was a member of the choir at St. Adelaide Catholic Church in the San Bernardino suburb of Highland.

Details of the alleged molestation will be revealed in a downtown courtroom beginning Jan. 17. Rister's case against the Diocese of San Diego (of which San Bernardino was once a part) will be the first of five abuse lawsuits against Catholic priests to be tried here.

Superior Court Judge John Einhorn ruled Monday that Rister's case would be followed with three others by men who say they were molested in the 1970s.

The fifth case released for trial after nearly three years of unsuccessful mediation has been assigned to another judge.

Rister's lawsuit, one of more than 150 abuse cases filed in 2003 against the San Diego diocese, states that O'Keeffe admitted in a letter that he molested her and other girls at various parishes in San Diego and San Bernardino.

The plaintiff, now 52, is married with two grown children and lives in Colorado. She is anxious for her day in court. "This has profoundly affected me throughout my life," Rister said.

She said O'Keeffe fled to Ireland after learning he was to be criminally charged with sexual abuse. Rister said she traveled there in March and confronted O'Keeffe when he was deposed for her case. "He was very surprised to see me and did not say a word to me," Rister said.

The cases that will follow the Rister trial in Einhorn's court involve these plaintiffs:

Michael Shoemaker was 16 in 1977 when he was allegedly molested by the now-deceased Rev. John Daly at St. Joseph Church in the Imperial County town of Holtville.

An unnamed plaintiff is one of 22 alleged victims of Edward Anthony Rodrigue, 69, a former priest who is living in a San Bernardino apartment after his January release from state prison (Rodrigue was convicted in 1998 of molesting a disabled boy).

An unnamed plaintiff is one of several to file lawsuits against the late William Kraft. This lawsuit alleges that the monsignor abused the boy for five years, beginning at age 11, and tried to rape him in the church rectory at St. Therese in Del Cerro in 1969.

The fifth lawsuit is scheduled for trial on Feb. 3 before Superior Court Judge Jay Bloom. It involves four sisters from Belgium who were orphaned in the 1950s. They were allegedly abused by the late Rev. Franz Robier at a San Diego orphanage operated by Catholic Charities.

Jury trials in these five cases are expected to determine the extent of liability, if any, faced by the San Diego diocese, and may act as a gauge for the money it would take to settle the bulk of the remaining lawsuits.

More than 500 such suits are pending against the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

"Nobody expects these hundreds of cases lumped together in San Diego and Los Angeles to all go to trial," said Marci Hamilton, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School in New York and an expert in church-abuse cases.

"No judge would ever permit that the system simply could not handle it," she said. "These initial cases are designed to permit a window into the question of liability and damage amounts, so the rest can be settled."

Mark Sauer: (619) 293-2227;


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