Attorney targets diocese
He says timing of bankruptcy filing meant to sidetrack Kelly case proceedings
By Kevin Parrish
January 16, 2014
Stockton - A Southern California lawyer, after appearing in San Joaquin County Superior Court in the morning, stood in front of the Diocese of Stockton offices Wednesday afternoon to accuse local Catholic officials of deceit and obstruction of justice.
Irvine-based attorney John Manly used his visit to Stockton as an opportunity to tie the ongoing civil case against the Rev. Michael Eugene Kelly to bankruptcy, a process in its infancy.
The diocese's Chapter 11 protection plan was formally filed at noon in Sacramento following months of communication with Catholic parishioners and consideration by Bishop Stephen Blaire.
"The filing is no coincidence," Manly said. "There is an automatic stay (suspension) with bankruptcy. You can't take depositions."
|Lawyer John Manly, standing Wednesday in front of the Diocese of Stockton, claims church officials are obstructing justice in the case of the Rev. Michael Eugene Kelly. Craig Sanders / The Record
On Wednesday, the deposition of Douglass Wilhoit, president and CEO of the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce, was scheduled but never took place.
"I had been subpoenaed, but then I was told 'not today' because of the filing," Wilhoit said.
Manly said there was a different reason. He said he was told that Wilhoit was unavailable because he was sick. "The diocese was never going to produce him," Manly said.
Manly said he sought Wilhoit's deposition because of his role on the Diocesan Review Board, which recommended reinstating Kelly after accusations of inappropriate behavior around children had been made public.
Wilhoit, reached at home, was uncertain if the committee had nine or 10 members. Manly said it was more like six or seven. Also unclear was whether that recommendation was made in 2008 or 2010.
"We advised the bishop with the information we had at the time," Wilhoit said. "We gave our viewpoint to rehire him. I supported the decision. Bishop Blaire is a blessing to this community."
Manly disagreed with the decision to keep Kelly active.
"The only one to blame (for Kelly) is that man in this office," the lawyer said, pointing to the front door of the diocese and referring to Blaire. "He owns it. He ought to step up, pay the medical bills for the victims and stop this nonsense."
Kelly, 64, fled to his native Ireland in April 2012 after being found liable in a civil lawsuit of sexually abusing Travis Trotter as a child. The diocese's settlement of that lawsuit - $3.75 million - was the largest in its history.
On Monday, the Calaveras County district attorney announced that a criminal grand jury had indicted Kelly on four counts of child sexual abuse, prompting Superior Court Judge John Martin to issue a $175,000 arrest warrant. Kelly faces up to 14 years in prison if convicted on all the charges.
Manly is convinced that some diocese officials know where he is hiding in Ireland. He pointed out that Monsignor Richard J. Ryan, also from Ireland, is a longtime friend of Kelly's.
Calaveras officials said they would work with the U.S. Justice Department to have Kelly extradited.
Blaire said he has urged the wayward priest to return.
"When Father Kelly returned to Ireland in 2012, I immediately instructed him, through email correspondence, to return to Stockton to see his civil case to completion and to help us learn the truth about other claims," Blaire said. "I have repeated that instruction through email, since I do not know his whereabouts. I will do so again in light of the criminal indictment."
Wilhoit's deposition wasn't the only one disrupted by the bankruptcy filing. Manly repeated Wednesday his belief that the timing was designed to keep Blaire from providing testimony.
Blaire said that was not the case.
"Both I and Monsignor Ryan have provided testimony in many cases, including several depositions conducted by Mr. Manly himself," Blaire said. "The idea that this very important decision about filing for bankruptcy - which has been under discussion throughout the diocese since last summer - was taken merely to avoid one more scheduled deposition just doesn't make sense."
Staff Writer Joe Goldeen contributed to this report.
Contact reporter Kevin Parrish at (209) 546-8264 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KLPRecord.