Wisconsin gov. candidate Matt Flynn defends his work on priest abuse cases
By Daniel Bice
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
October 10, 2017
|Matthew Flynn announced Tuesday he is joining the large Democratic field for governor.|
As he made his formal announcement to run for governor, former Democratic Party Chairman Matthew Flynn defended himself against charges that he was overly aggressive in representing the Archdiocese of Milwaukee against victims of sexual abuse by priests.
Specifically, Flynn came under attack for moving to collect $4,000 in legal fees from an alleged victim who lost his case. Also, Flynn is accused of telling a lawyer for several abuse victims that the archdiocese would "throw a crumb to your clients if you drop these cases.”
"Baloney!" Flynn said in response to the "crumbs" statement in an interview after his announcement in Glendale on Tuesday. "I never said that."
Flynn is one of eight Democrats seeking to challenge GOP Gov. Scott Walker next year.
This week, Peter Isley, spokesman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called into question whether Flynn should be running for the state's highest political post.
Isley said the primary duty of any governor is the protection and safety of all state residents, especially children. But Isley said Flynn's record doesn't suggest he would be the best person to do this.
"For some fifteen years, Matt Flynn was the chief corporate lawyer for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee during the height of the widespread and systematic coverup of thousands of sex crimes against children by dozens of sex offender priests," Isley said.
But Flynn, 70, said Tuesday that he had no regrets about how he defended the Milwaukee archdiocese against those making accusations that they were molested by priests. Flynn represented the archdiocese until 2004.
Flynn said the vast majority of Catholic priests do important work for very little pay. But he said a small minority of priests "did very terrible things … and deserved to be punished."
"Since I represented the archdiocese, there has been no recurrence of the transfer of priests who shouldn't be transferred, and there's been no recurrence of that kind of conduct," Flynn said.
He said a good attorney can't go back in time to fix things from decades ago. He said he could only advise the archdiocese on matters before it then.
A retired partner with the Quarles & Brady law firm in Milwaukee, Flynn said no one has ever accused him or his firm of wrongdoing. Of his critics, he said, "They're mistaken."
State Republican Party officials pointed to two specific matters in criticizing the gubernatorial candidate. Flynn has run for office four times previously without success.
According to a Journal Sentinel story, Joe Cerniglia sued the archdiocese and Father William Effinger in 1993, claiming Effinger sexually abused him. A Milwaukee County judge tossed the case because the statue of limitations had expired.
Later, Cerniglia found that lawyers for the church sought to recover some $4,000 in legal fees from him by having the court impose a lien on his property. He found out about the judgment when checking his credit.
"In my opinion, they were trying to stick it to (Cerniglia) and to get in one last shot," said Cerniglia's first attorney, David Borowski, now a Milwaukee County judge.
In the other case cited by Republican officials, Jeff Anderson, an attorney for five individuals suing the archdiocese over sexual abuse by priests, told the media that Flynn had urged him to drop the litigation, according to the National Catholic Reporter.
“Anderson told the press: ‘(Flynn) said, ‘You’re going to lose anyway, so we’ll throw a crumb to your clients if you drop these cases.’ ”
Alec Zimmerman, a spokesman for the state GOP, said Flynn's conduct in this case made things even worse for the litigants. "Matt Flynn shamelessly endangered the welfare of these victims in order to line his own pockets," Zimmerman said.
But Flynn said he never would have used the term "crumbs" in dealing with Anderson on these cases.
For context, Flynn said, the vast majority of priest abuse cases were settled. The victims, he added, frequently got therapy and tuition as part of a settlement, so those issues would be discussed during negotiations.
As for the lien against Cerniglia, Flynn said it is not unusual for a court to enter a judgment against the losing party in a lawsuit to cover the winning side's legal expenses. A lien could be placed on the losing side's property until the debt was cleared.
"That is something that is standard in the legal community," Flynn said. "When it was routinely done, and it was brought to our attention, (the archdiocese) satisfied it" by paying it off.
Cerniglia's judgment was removed in 2000. It is not clear in online records who picked up the tab.