Judge Revives Former Altar Boy's Sex Abuse Suit against El Paso Diocese

By David Crowder
Newspaper Tree
May 4, 2009

For the plaintiff, a man in his 50s suing anonymously as John Doe, and his lawyers, Judge Stephen Able’s decisions represented three consecutive victories in court recently after three winless years.

In a packed courtroom Monday, visiting District Judge Stephen Ables effectively set aside County Court-at-Law Judge Javier Alvarez’s dismissal of a sexual abuse lawsuit brought by a former altar boy against the El Paso Catholic Diocese.

For the plaintiff, a man in his 50s suing anonymously as John Doe, and his lawyers, Able’s decisions represented three consecutive victories in court after three winless years.

Two weeks ago, Alvarez voluntarily granted a motion to recuse himself from the case in the face of allegations that his relationship with the local Catholic Church appeared to be too close.

The plaintiff's motion cited several rulings and comments by Alvarez in court that the plaintiff claimed showed bias as well as Alvarez's donation of more than $8,000 from his campaign funds to the diocese and two churches. (Download a copy of the motion to recuse below)

Ables, the state administrative judge for the judicial region that includes El Paso County, agreed Monday to reconsider the plaintiff’s lawsuit, which Alvarez dismissed without a hearing on two motions for summary judgment in January and February.

The defendants pleaded that the statute of limitations had passed and that the plaintiff, who alleged he was abused by Fr. James Hay, now deceased, at El Paso's Our Lady of the Light Catholic Church in the mid-1960s, had waited too long to sue the church.

Ables said the allegations against the diocese and Msgr. Thomas Rowland, who supervised and allegedly covered for Hay, were on the level of a death penalty case and that the motion for summary judgment to dismiss the suit deserved a full hearing.

But before that hearing, Ables said, he would conduct a full hearing in mid-June on the defendants’ motions to strike the plaintiff’s expert witnesses.

In February, Alvarez disqualified the three expert witnesses offered by the plaintiff to testify on why the normal statute of limitations should be set aside in a lawsuit brought, like many across the country, decades after the alleged abuse occurred.

Rather than throwing out Alvarez's rulings on the defendants' motions to strike the plaintiff's expert witnesses and to dismiss the lawsuit, Ables said he would consider those decisions as not final until he conducts hearings on them himself.

“Judge Ables is going to reconsider Judge Alvarez’s previous orders and give our client an opportunity for a hearing,” the plaintiff's lawyer Tommy Gilstrap said after the hearing. “I think it’s great. That’s what trial judges are supposed to do.

“We’re at least entitled to a hearing.”


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.