Judge Rules Lawyer Erred in Filing Church Sex-Abuse Suit

The Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
August 12, 2003

A Texas-based lawyer representing a former altar boy who claims he was sexually abused in the late '70s and early 1980s skipped some steps that Louisiana law requires in such cases, a judge ruled Monday.

Felecia Peavey of Houston filed a lawsuit in January in state District Court on behalf of Patrick Myers against the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge and a former priest, Christopher Springer.

During Monday's hearing, state District Judge Duke Welch said state law requires attorneys to follow certain steps in cases where people age 21 or older allege to have been abused as a minors.

According to Welch, Peavey did not present the findings of a mental review of her client to a judge. State law requires that the review be done by a mental health practitioner licensed to work in Louisiana.

The case can go forward only if a judge, after a private review of the mental health review, finds "there is reasonable and meritorious cause for filing of the action."

Following the hearing, Peavey said Myers had been reviewed by a psychologist and a psychiatrist in Texas. She said she will comply with the judge's order and have Myers reviewed by a Louisiana-based mental health practitioner.

Welch also found that Peavey wrongfully disclosed the names of the defendants before a judge could determine whether the allegations have merit.

In cases involving the alleged abuse of a minor, state law also forbids a lawyer from naming the defendants until after the judge finds the mental health review proves the case has merit.

Named as defendants are the Baton Rouge Diocese, Bishop Robert Muench, the diocese's insurance companies and Springer. Muench was installed as the diocese's bishop in March 2002.

At the time of the alleged abuse, the late Bishop Joseph Sullivan, headed the diocese.

Diocese attorney David Ziober argued Monday that this case stems from alleged abuses to Myers years ago and that Peavey should follow the law.

Peavey contends the case has more than one facet. The lawsuit alleges that Springer molested Myers, but it also alleges the church undertook a conspiracy to hide Springer's actions, she said.

The Very Rev. John Carville, vicar general for the diocese, said in January that Springer was one of six priests dismissed from the diocese in recent decades for alleged sexual misconduct with minors. Carville said Springer was dismissed in 1985, about two or three months after the diocese received complaints of "improper actions."

However, Myers contends he was sexually abused by Springer from 1978 to 1982.

The alleged abuses occurred while Springer was a priest at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Baton Rouge and Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Clinton, Myers claims in his lawsuit. Springer was priest at St. Pius X from 1976 to 1980 before moving to Our Lady of the Assumption.

Carville has said the diocese first heard of Myers' complaints when the lawsuit was filed.

Attempts to reach Springer for comment have been unsuccessful.


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