Archdiocese wants upcoming sex abuse trials moved far from L.A.
By Harriet Ryan and Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times March 15, 2013, 5:27 p.m.
Church asks L.A. County judge to delay the trials or move them to San Luis Obispo County because it doesn’t believe a fair, impartial jury can be found locally.
In an acknowledgment that new revelations in the priest abuse scandal have tarnished the church’s image, lawyers for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles are seeking to postpone upcoming sexual abuse trials or relocate them to a courthouse 200 miles away because they don’t believe they can get a fair trial in Southern California.
The church’s request to a judge for a delay or change of venue in pending cases this week came just hours after the announcement that the archdiocese would pay two brothers an unprecedented $4 million each to avoid a molestation trial set for April. The payouts to the men, part of a $10-million deal ending four lawsuits, dwarfed settlements the church paid victims in recent years and underscored the archdiocese’s reluctance to face juries in its own backyard.
“We think that the environment in Los Angeles today is currently hostile,” archdiocese lawyer J. Michael Hennigan said.
The January release of personnel files showing that church hierarchy in the 1980s and 1990s shielded abuser priests from police refocused public attention on the clergy sex scandal. In court papers, archdiocese attorneys blamed media coverage, which they described as “unrelenting obloquy, condemnation and contempt,” for poisoning the potential jury pool.
The church proposed to Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Emilie H. Elias on Tuesday that four suits concerning a Mexican priest accused of abusing more than two dozen boys in L.A. be moved to San Luis Obispo County. In the alternative, the church asked for a trial delay of at least six months to allow what Hennigan called a “cooling-off period.”
The archdiocese bolstered its request to the judge with a report from a jury consultant describing “an intense level of vitriol” in the region toward the former archbishop, Cardinal Roger Mahony, and the church.
Donald Vinson, who worked on the O.J. Simpson and Oklahoma City bombing trials, did not survey potential jurors but said that based on a review of media reports and Google search trends, “the defendants in this matter will not be able to obtain a fair and impartial jury trial in any venue within the Los Angeles media market.”
He said the coverage had turned “passive consumers” of news to “active investigators of the issues” and cited caustic, offensive online comments about Mahony on KTLA’s website.
Changes of venue in civil trials are highly unusual and Richard Gabriel, a jury consultant who has worked for many parties seeking to relocate cases, said the archdiocese’s request was a long shot. Child molestation cases “engender very high emotions and very strong feelings,” he said, but judges are “very stringent” in evaluating whether moving trials is really necessary.
“When you have a metropolitan area of 8 to 10 million people, it’s pretty hard to say that out of that many, you can’t find a fair and impartial jury,” Gabriel said.
The archdiocese has always settled abuse cases before trial, but the possibility of making plaintiffs prove their claims in the unpredictable setting of a trial has been a negotiating point for church lawyers as they try to drive down the amount of settlements.
The change of venue request this week was an acknowledgment that the archdiocese believed it no longer had the option of going to trial in L.A. Hennigan, who as the archdiocese’s lead litigator has overseen two massive settlements totaling $720 million and dozens of smaller payouts, said he had no confidence in local juries given the “media frenzy about the events happening 20-plus years ago.”
“It is not likely that there is anyone who has not been affected” by the publicity, Hennigan said.
The $4-million settlements to two brothers seemed to reflect a changing landscape. The priest accused by the men, Michael Baker, is suspected of molesting at least 23 minors and was convicted criminally of abusing two boys. He admitted molesting youths in a private conversation with Mahony in 1986. Mahony sent him for treatment but returned him to ministry and Baker molested again.
When the brothers initially filed their case in 2011, the church expressed strong doubts about the validity of their claim. A third, older brother received a $2.2-million settlement from the church the previous year for molestation by Baker and archdiocese attorneys suggested the subsequent suit was a money grab.
“Each has previously denied that any abuse occurred at all…. Neither came forward until after their brother received a multimillion-dollar settlement,” church lawyers wrote.
Baker admitted molesting the older brother of the men suing him but told sheriff’s detectives he never touched them and volunteered to take a polygraph. Prosecutors declined to file charges.
Attorneys for the men said the church’s tone changed after Baker’s personnel file was made public in January. The documents revealed that one of Mahony’s top aides, Thomas J. Curry, suggested strategies for keeping police from investigating Baker, including preventing him from seeing certain therapists because they were required to report him to police.
“We did not believe they were serious about settling the cases until the documents came out,” said John Manly, an attorney for the men.
With the church ready to pay, the question became how much. The church paid an average of $1.3 million per individual in its 2007 settlement with hundreds of victims. In recent years, with suits facing tougher standards for statute of limitations, the church paid far smaller sums. In 2011, for example, it settled seven claims for an average of $83,000 per person.
The church’s insurers, which paid a chunk of the $660-million settlement six years ago, are long out of the picture — all payments now come directly from church coffers. The archdiocese said in a recent financial report that it was considering a $200-million fundraising campaign to repay loans it took out in past years to cover sex abuse payouts.
The archdiocese ultimately agreed to pay $9.9 million to the brothers and two other men who said Baker abused them. A judge apportioned the settlement. Two of the men, who alleged that they were molested before Mahony learned of Baker’s history of abuse, got just under $1 million each, and the brothers, who said they were abused in the 1990s after the cardinal was warned, split $8 million.
Hennigan said the size of the settlement had to do with a changed “public attitude” toward the church as well as the notoriety and severity of Baker’s case.
“Michael Baker is our poster boy for misconduct,” he said.
Twelve other sex abuse lawsuits remain pending against the archdiocese, Hennigan said, including the four cases the church is trying to get moved to San Luis Obispo County. Those claims concern another allegedly prolific pedophile priest whose personnel file provides damaging evidence against the archdiocese. Authorities suspect that Nicholas Aguilar Rivera, a visiting priest from Tehuacan, Mexico, molested at least 26 children during nine months in Los Angeles in 1987 and 1988. After parents contacted the archdiocese, Curry warned him of a police investigation and the priest left the country. He remains a fugitive.
Cardinals Dolan and Mahony quizzed on child abuse
21 February 2013 Last updated at 14:38 ET
From the link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-21539070
Two US cardinals due to go to Rome to help elect a new pope are being questioned about cases of child abuse by priests under their supervision.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan testified about his release of names of accused clergy members in his former archdiocese.
Cardinal Roger Mahony will be questioned on Saturday about a Mexican priest accused of abusing 26 children.
Pope Benedict XVI unexpectedly said last week he would retire, becoming the first pontiff to do so since 1415.
Cardinal Dolan, 62, also the Archbishop of New York and president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, has been seen as a long-shot candidate for the papacy.
His deposition came during a bankruptcy trial filed in 2011 by Cardinal Dolan’s successor to the archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, over abuse claims from nearly 500 people.
The scandal has seen the removal of several church officials, including another former archbishop.
A spokesman for Cardinal Dolan said he was eager to co-operate with lawyers on the trial.
“He has indicated over the past two years that he was eager to co-operate in whatever way he could,” said spokesman Joseph Zwilling.
The plaintiffs have said the evidence given by Cardinal Dolan would help them to establish when church officials first became aware of the abuse allegations and victims.
Current Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki has said the church is seeking bankruptcy protection so it can continue to operate, while still compensating victims.
It is the eighth US diocese to take such action.
A spokesman said Cardinal Dolan’s decision to make public the names of suspected abusers was part of a wider effort to begin the healing process.
But the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests is asking for the cardinal’s testimony to be made public.
Cardinal Dolan “did a lot of creative maneuvering of priest sex offenders and creative accounting of church money,” said Peter Isley, a director of the group.
Calls to withdraw
Meanwhile, Cardinal Mahony is due to provide evidence in a separate case over visiting Mexican priest Reverend Nicolas Aguilar Rivera.
Police believe he abused 26 children in 1987 and fled to Mexico a year later when parents complained.
He has been removed from the priesthood and is still a fugitive.
In recent weeks, the archdiocese of Los Angeles has released thousands of documents concerning over 120 accused clergy members.
The papers showed Cardinal Mahony and other church officials protected some of those accused and made no effort to warn churchgoers about the risk to their children.
There are mounting calls for Cardinal Mahony to withdraw from the conclave. But in blog and Twitter posts the cardinal has indicated he intends to go to Rome.
– January 24, 2013
“This week’s revelations of deliberate efforts by [Los Angeles Cardinal] Mahony and others to shield abusers from law enforcement authorities are deplorable yet entirely unsurprising. It all fits the M.O. that’s was in place at least through the 1980s:
“Conceal the church’s dirty secrets at all costs. Don’t notify the police when abuse is reported. Keep prosecutors at bay with legal challenges. Avoid reforms until public pressure mounts. And, when all else fails, have Mahony issue a carefully scripted ‘apology.’
“His latest was perhaps his most odious and offensive, with Mahony saying he didn’t fully appreciate the hell victims had been put through until many years later.
“You need years of reflection to realize that the rape, abuse, betrayal and psychological exploitation of children by their spiritual leaders is both devastating and unconscionable?”
This is how Steve Lopez, LA Times columnist, describes the outrage of the recently released documents in a current legal proceeding against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles by a victim of a priest.
SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, describes the relevance of these documents:
“Because of one survivor’s fight in the California Civil Courts against Father Nicolas Aguilar Rivera and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, never seen before documents containing vital evidence of how clergy abuse cases were handled by the Archdiocese are now available for public view.
Portions of the thousands of documents filed in this case are posted on the web site www.abusedinsocal.com. The documents, which were not a part of the documents involved in the 2007 settlements with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, demonstrate that former Archbishop and now Cardinal Roger Mahoney knew from his first days in office that priests under his supervision were sexually abusing children in Los Angeles.
The documents further demonstrate that contrary to Mahony’s past claims, he was intimately involved in handling the sex abuse scandal of priests in Los Angeles from 1985 to 2011 and communicated directly with priest perpetrators and their therapists–just as his predecessors McIntrye and Manning had done before him.
Also included in the documents is evidence that as Archbishop, Mahony worked with his Vicar for Clergy to thwart law enforcement involvement by ordering Pastors to not give Altar Boy lists to LAPD detectives, while at the same time, cozying up to high ranking officers at LAPD Juvenile Division.
And finally, even though Mahony and his Vicars for Clergy were aware of the crimes of the priests, the names of the children, and the names of the families; he did not call law enforcement or child protective services but offered counseling in order to keep his perceived enemies closer.
Mahony, the first native Angeleno to be created Cardinal, now holds the title of Archbishop Emeritus of Los Angeles.”
A local testimony of this horrible practice was shared by Matthew Carrigan, on July 2012
“…Words really can’t describe what you did to me. The abuse you subjected me to has ripped me apart. Here I stand at 39 years old still trying to heal and piece my life together. I can not ask why you did it, because you’d never be able to answer that question. I wouldn’t want to hear your sick and twisted spin on it like you gave your parishioners . I can not call you a man of god. You are nothing more than a demented monster. A monster that hides under a religious organization who protects you and allows you to continue abusing children even after you have been accused. You stole from me my childhood, my innocence, my trust, my sense of being, my security, my education, my self worth, my sanity. The list goes on and on…”
The Cardinal should stand trial, don’t you think so?