Jury Deliberating Civil Claim against Green Bay Diocese

By Andy Nelesen
Green Bay Press-Gazette [Medford WI]
February 1, 2007

A Taylor County jury has begun deliberating whether church leaders' threats of a defamation lawsuit kept David Schauer from filing a timely claim against the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay.

The jury of seven men and five women began their work about 3:25 p.m. after three days of testimony -- including two witnesses today -- all hinging on a legal axiom of equitable estoppel, the idea that the diocese's actions stopped Schauer from filing his civil lawsuit before the statute of limitations expired.

Schauer, now 29, was molested by then Rev. Donald Buzanowski, who was working as a counselor at Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic School in Green Bay in the fall of 1988. Buzanowski, who has since been defrocked, was convicted in July 2005 of two counts of sexual assault of a child and is currently serving a 32-year prison term.

Schauer sued the diocese, Ss. Peter & Paul School, Buzanowski and several insurance companies in 2003, but had the case dismissed later that same year because Warpinski believed the time limit to file a lawsuit had expired.

The State Court of Appeals in September 2004 reversed Warpinski's decision and reinstated the case. Warpinski then pushed the time limit argument before a jury.

Schauer claims that a threat of a defamation lawsuit by church officials -- and a promise that Buzanowski wouldn't counsel children or work as a priest -- prompted him to not file a claim.

Schauer's suit also alleges that the Rev. David Kiefer, then vicar of priests for the diocese, told the Schauers to keep quiet or face the possibility of legal action if they went public with their allegations against Buzanowski. They also allege that the Green Bay diocese concealed information about Buzanowski that prevented criminal prosecution in 1990.

Schauer claims he decided to file suit shortly after learning that Buzanowski claimed to have molested 13 other boys and had continued to work as a counselor.

"This case is really about three things," said Jeff Anderson, Schauer's attorney.

"The first (thing) is time. Is the time for David Schauer to have started this law suit past?" Anderson said during his closing arguments. "The second is truth. Who is telling the truth here?

"And the third is about trust. This is about trust and betrayal."

The diocese has denied any wrongdoing.

"I believe the evidence shows, clearly and convincingly, that it is the diocese of Green Bay that, in this case, has engaged in wrongful conduct," Anderson told the jurors. "It was the diocese that did something through Father Kiefer by having him make the threat that he did to David Schauer to not file this case until 2003."

Brennan apologized to Schauer on behalf of the diocese.

"We regret what occurred with Mr. Schauer and his encounter with then-Father Buzanowski," Brennan said. "We are sorry it occurred and hope for the best for him in the future."

But that's where the sympathy ended.

Brennan said the case hinges on a threat that Schauer said came of a March 5, 1990, meeting between Kiefer, Schauer and his mother -- 27 words allegedly said 13 years ago. Brennan contends the words were never said.

"That statement was invented by Jeff Anderson," Brennan accused. "They cannot reconcile the discrepancies in this case."

During his testimony in the civil case, Kiefer denied issuing threats.

Brennan said Schauer knew he had to play by the rules and didn't get to carve out a special rule because he's Catholic.

"There is no reason offered to you why the one and only thing he has ever delayed on (in life) was this one lawsuit," Brennan said. "He's a calculator. He's a pretty sharp guy.

"He said that he never forgot for a day what happened. He knew all along that he had that right and decided not to do anything.

He knew very well what to do and when to do it."

During their deliberation, jurors must answer five questions in the verdict.

1. Did David Schauer attend a meeting with Father Kiefer in March of 1990?

2. Did Father Kiefer make a statement to David Schauer that David Schauer would be sued by the diocese for defamation if David Schauer make any statement to anyone about then-Father Buzanowski's conduct?

3. Was Father Kiefer's statement to David Schauer wrongful conduct?

4. Was Father Kiefer's statement to David Schauer the cause for David Schauer's delay in filing this suit?

5. Did David Schauer reasonably rely on Father Kiefer's statement of March 1990 from the time he became an adult until January 2003?

All five questions must be answered affirmatively for Schauer to prevail. The jurors, however, do not need be unanimous because civil matters only require that 10 of the 12 jurors agree.

If the jury finds that church's interference kept Schauer from filing a lawsuit, it would clear the way for a damages claim to move forward.

Schauer's original lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for Buzanowski's abuse. Court documents show that Schauer rejected a $350,000 settlement offer in December.

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