|Diocese Seeks Retrial in Abuse Case
By Sam Hemingway
Burlington Free Press
January 6, 2009
The state's Roman Catholic diocese is asking a Burlington judge to reject a December $3.6 million jury verdict and order a new trial in the case of a former altar boy molested twice by the Rev. Edward Paquette in the late 1970s.
In papers filed late last week at Chittenden Superior Court, lawyers for the diocese said the $3.6 million figure was exorbitant and that the victim, David Navari of Takoma Park, Md., was partly to blame for his troubles by not suing the diocese until 2005.
"Well before six years of filing suit, a reasonable person in Mr. Navari's position knew or should have known there was an issue with the adequacy of the diocese's oversight of Father Paquette," the church's court filing said in part.
The diocese argued that the amount of punitive damages awarded in the case -- $3.4 million -- was out of line, noting that the amount was 17.6 times the amount awarded in compensatory damages, $192,500.
Kaveh Shahi, a diocesan attorney, said that courts nationally have inferred that punitive awards be kept between one and 10 times the size of compensatory awards.
"The size of punitive damages is subject to limitations imposed by the U.S. Supreme Court and we are asking the judge to apply those limits to the punitive damage award here," Shahi said.
Navari, who grew up in Burlington, is one of 22 former altar boys who have sued the diocese, claiming Paquette molested them. They point to internal church documents that show the diocese was aware Paquette was a repeat pedophile when it hired him in 1972.
Navari, at the December trial, told the jury he did not tell anyone what Paquette did to him until 2002 because Navari thought he was to blame for what happened. The two incidents took place in the sacristy at Christ the King Church in Burlington.
A psychologist testified that Paquette's molestation of Navari explain Navari's struggles with anxiety, depression and substance abuse over the years. Navari said he was unaware of Paquette's misconduct with other altar boys in Vermont, Indiana and Massachusetts until the information became public in 2002.
Navari said after the verdict was announced that he wants to turn the money over to a trust for Burlington-area children seeking help in financing Catholic education. He conditioned his proposal on a requirement that the diocese publish the names and pictures of known priest pedophiles on its Web site and work to excommunicate them from the church.
Jerome O'Neill, one of Navari's lawyers, said the effort to fight the jury award was especially disappointing, given Navari's proposal.
"The diocese has chosen to completely ignore, in effect reject, David Navari's offer," O'Neill said Monday in a statement. "His offer would have given the money back to the people of the diocese as long as the diocese meets some very reasonable conditions."
The $3.6 million award marked the second time in a year a Vermont jury has issued a large monetary award against the diocese on behalf of a former altar boy molested by Paquette. A May jury came back with a $8.7 million verdict in a case brought by a former altar boy now living in Colorado.
Contact Sam Hemingway at 660-1850 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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