New Arguments and Actions in Church Sex Abuse Cases
Negligence Lawsuits in Scandal Set to Go to Trial on March 7
By Don Lattin
San Francisco Chronicle
January 6, 2005
Negligence lawsuits linked to the child sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church in Northern California inched closer to trial Wednesday in Alameda County Superior Court.
Lawyers representing San Francisco Archbishop William Levada and attorneys for the adults claiming that as children they were molested by priests argued over what kind of instructions jurors will be given at civil trials scheduled to begin March 7.
At the same hearing Wednesday morning in Oakland, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ronald Sabraw turned down a request by church lawyers that he throw out a claim for damages against the Diocese of Santa Rosa for the alleged molestations of a Garberville priest.
Church attorney Adrienne Moran of Santa Rosa argued that attorneys for one of the allegedly abused persons in Santa Rosa, identified in court records as "John Doe," has not presented "one shred of evidence" that church leaders had prior warning that the late Rev. Patrick Gleeson was a child molester.
Sabraw, who is coordinating key pretrial rulings in 150 suits pending against the Northern California Catholic Church, disagreed.
The judge cited a deposition by a priest who said he and Gleason wined and dined two minors inside the rectory of Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Garberville in the early 1970s, after which Gleason took one of the boys to sleep with him in an upstairs bedroom.
"We have testimony that there was alcohol served to a minor, and they left and went upstairs to bed," Sabraw said. "That appears to be a triable issue of fact."
Hayward attorney Richard Simons, the coordinating counsel for dozens of victim attorneys in the Northern California cases, said Gleason was seen getting boys drunk and taking them to his bedroom.
"That crosses the line," he told Sabraw. "That kind of behavior was unacceptable and suspicious in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and today."
Lawyers on both sides of the legal battle in Sabraw's court say the Diocese of Santa Rosa -- which has been embroiled in sex scandals over the past decade -- is among the most financially vulnerable dioceses in Northern California.
Asked about rumors that the diocese may declare bankruptcy, church attorney Daniel Galvin III replied, "It's an option."
Last year, bishops in Portland, Ore., Tucson and Spokane, Wash., filed for bankruptcy to avoid going into open court and defending themselves against sexual abuse claims.
The Garberville case is one of hundreds of lawsuits filed across the state under the provisions of a 2002 law that temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for third-party claims for damages in decades-old cases of child molestation.
Last month, three former students at De La Salle High School in Concord settled their lawsuits in exchange for a$6.3 million payout by the Christian Brothers, the Catholic religious order that runs the school.
Just weeks before that settlement, the Diocese of Orange (County) settled 87 sexual abuse cases for a record $100 million.
But Stockton attorney Larry Drivon said Wednesday that negotiations for a broader out-of-court settlement are stalled, adding that he expects the first trials to begin in March.
Legal observers have predicted that the church would do nearly anything to avoid a jury trial in open court.
During a court recess Wednesday morning, San Francisco attorney Paul Gaspari, the coordinating counsel for the Northern California bishops, declined to speculate on the chances that the first cases may go to jurors this spring.
Sabraw said he will set more trial dates at a hearing next Wednesday, and will make a final decision on jury instructions by Feb. 18.
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