Attorneys Teaming up in Lawsuit against Catholic Leaders

February 28, 2013

Attorneys from Boston and Johnstown, Pa. are teaming up in at least one lawsuit against Catholic religious leaders accused of allowing Brother Stephen Baker access to hundreds of children at schools across the Midwest that he allegedly molested.

Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who successfully negotiated high-five figure settlements for 11 former students that were molested at Warren’s John F. Kennedy High School and St. Mary’s Middle School, and Johnstown attorney Richard Serbin, who has filed two other lawsuits on behalf of Bishop McCort students that were allegedly molested by Baker, filed another lawsuit Thursday in Blair County Court.

Serbin filed a second lawsuit Thursday on behalf of another alleged victim. Earlier in the week, he filed a lawsuit for three other victims.

A Greensburg, Pa. attorney, Susan Williams, has filed two lawsuits for seven total clients.

Serbin said on Tuesday he expects the number of clients and lawsuits to grow. He has a number of clients that have alleged abuse and is in the process of investigating their claims.

Garabedian has talked to dozens of clients and an advocate working with him last weekend said 65 more victims have come forward.

The filing names Bishop McCort, the Third Order Regular Franciscans, the Johnstown-Altoona Catholic Diocese, the Province of the Immaculate Conception, which Serbin said is the particular identity of the order Baker belonged to within the Franciscans.

He also named former T.O.R. Provincial Robert D’Aversa and former Altoona-Johnstown Diocese Bishop Joseph V. Adamec as defendants, both of whom were in their respective positions when the alleged abuse occurred. Neither are currently at those positions.

The Youngstown Catholic Diocese, named in one of Williams’ lawsuits and who paid 30 percent of the settlements to the 11 former Warren students, have said they sent 1,800 letters to former students inquiring about the abuse. The diocese also has said they've interviewed all current faculty and staff that worked with Babker and are in the process of contacting others that no longer work at the school to see if they knew of any abuse allegations.

Baker, 62, fatally stabbed himself in the heart Jan. 26 at St. Bernadine’s Monestary in Hollidaysburg, where Baker had been living under strict supervision since 2000, when Franciscan officials first learned Baker was accused of sexually abusing students.

Officials said he left a suicide note that apologized for his behavior. They also found sealed envelopes addressed to others.

The allegations against Baker first became widely known Jan. 16, when Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian announced he negotiated high-five figure settlements through mediation for 10 former JFK students and one former St. Mary’s Middle School student. The Third Order Regular Franciscans paid 70 percent of the lawsuit and the Youngstown Catholic Diocese paid 30 percent.

Since, dozens of former students at both schools have alleged Baker sexually abused them under the guise of giving sports injury and injury prevention treatment.

The first lawsuit in Pennsylvania was filed Jan. 22 in Cambria County Common Pleas Court against the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, Bishop McCort and the Franciscan Order. A complaint detailing the lawsuit has not yet been filed.

Another lawsuit, also filed by Williams on behalf of four unnamed Baker victims, was filed Feb. 11 against the Province of the Immaculate Conception of the Franciscan Friars.

The first known settlement made by Catholic religious leaders stemming from Baker’s alleged sexual abuse was in 2005, when Douglas Larson, of St. Cloud, Minn. settled with the diocese and Franciscans for $50,000.

Larson told WKBN.COM he met Baker through his church, where Baker taught catechism classes with his mother in 1977 at St. Patrick’s Church in Inver Grove Heights, Minn.

From there Baker worked at Orchard Lake Schools, in Orchard Lake, Mich. from 1983 to 1985. The Detroit Catholic Diocese has said they have never received complaints or allegations of sexual abuse by Baker during his tenure. He was then sent to JFK where he worked from 1986-1992, and Bishop McCort from until being removed from ministry in 2000 because of sexual abuse allegations against Larson.

Baker was accused by dozens of former students at Warren’s John F. Kennedy High School and Johnstown, Pa.’s Bishop McCort of sexually abusing boys between 14 and 18 years old seeking sports injury treatment.

Baker, according to attorneys and seven alleged victims from JFK and Bishop McCort interviewed by WKBN.COM, used his position as athletic trainer at the schools from 1986-2000 to give teenage boys massages where he would fondle their genitals and digitally penetrate them.

Bishop McCort, which is no longer a diocese school, initiated an internal investigation. The diocese was in charge of the school when the alleged abuse occurred. They hired former Allegheny County District Attorney Kathleen A. Gallagher and Eckert Seamans, who are now in private practice, to investigate the claims.

Baker, when contacted before the announcement was made public, said he was “flabbergasted” by the allegations and settlements. He thanked a WKBN.COM reporter during a brief interview for contacting him and said he would ask superiors if he could comment further.

Youngstown Diocese Bishop George Murry said their investigation revealed the allegations were “credible” and participated in mediation negotiations in order to help the alleged victims.

The five Bishop McCort and two JFK students have said in phone interviews they believe dozens, possibly hundreds, of other students were abused by Baker.

The students, all interviewed separately, told similar stories of abuse. They said Baker used his position as athletic trainer, baseball coach and religion teacher to gain students’ trust by offering car rides, dinners and outings to horse-race tracks and to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.

In the training room, those interviewed said Baker would fondle their genitals with therapeutic oils and digitally penetrate them. One Warren mother, Barbara Aponte said she believes her son, Luke Bradesku, who attended JFK from 1990 to 1994, committed suicide in 2003 because he was molested by Baker.

Garabedian negotiated 11 settlements with 10 former JFK students and one former St. Mary’s student through arbitration, keeping the case out of civil court.

A redacted copy of the settlement that omitted the names of the victims and the total amount of money agreed to be given to the victims, said the money was agreed upon because of "personal, physical and psychological injuries" sustained by victims.

JFK, T.O.R. Franciscan and the Youngstown Catholic Diocese also agreed to pay attorney fees and expenses.

The agreements, obtained by the station, said the payments will be made "solely upon pastoral concern" and was not an admission of any wrongdoing by JFK, T.O.R. Franciscan and the diocese, which was "expressly denied," according to the settlement.








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