Supreme Court Overturns First Diocese Verdict

Burlington Free Press
October 9, 2009

The Vermont Supreme Court today reversed the verdict in the first priest molestation case to go to trial in the state, issuing its ruling while the latest such case ended today with a $2.2 million verdict against the statewide Roman Catholic Diocese.

In a 5-0 decision, the high court said Judge Matthew Katz was wrong to overturn part of a 2007 jury decision that former altar boy James Turner waited too long to file his lawsuit seeking damages from the diocese for being molested by the Rev. Alfred Willis.

The justices, however, also said one of the jurors who sat on the Turner case was too biased to have been on the jury.

As a result, the high court ordered that the case in its entirety be retried.

Lawyers for Turner, who also represent the alleged priest molestation victim in the case that ended today in Burlington, declined comment about the high courtís ruling and whether it will affect either of the two cases that had jury verdicts since 2007, and are now under appeal at the Supreme Court.

Turner was awarded $15,000.

Turner, in his lawsuit, claimed Willis molested him at a Latham, N.Y., motel following a family celebration to honor Turnerís brother becoming a priest.

Several years later, according to testimony in the case, Turnerís brother told Turner that Willis had been fired by the diocese after getting into trouble concerning conduct with boys.

The jury found that Turner should have filed his lawsuit within six years of that date. Katz disagreed, but the high court said the jury got it right.

But, in another part of the Supreme Courtís decision, it said the court also erred by allowing a juror to be seated despite evidence the juror was an active Catholic who was familiar with the dioceseís views on the molestation cases.

Jurors in the present case debated claims by a former altar boy who was molested by the Rev. Edward Paquette in the 1970s. They returned a verdict shortly before 2 p.m., after some 14 hours in deliberations.


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