Lawyers say Boston archdiocese not party to settlement
By Denise Lavoie, Associated Press, 07/17/02

BOSTON -- Church lawyers claim that the Archdiocese of Boston should not have to pay a $15 million to $30 million settlement to alleged sexual abuse victims of former priest John J. Geoghan, even if a judge rules the agreement is binding.

The lawyers argue that because the lawsuits and settlement agreements do not specifically name the archdiocese as a defendant, it cannot be held responsible for the settlement.

Seventeen individual defendants are named, including Cardinal Bernard Law.

"It is undisputed that no signed writings exist in which the (archdiocese) in any manner agreed to assume responsibility to pay the amounts which the defendants ostensibly agreed to pay in settlement of this matter, even assuming such a settlement existed," the archdiocese attorneys wrote in a motion filed this week.

Mitchell Garabedian, who represents the 86 alleged Geoghan victims, said the archdiocese has been recognized by Judge Constance Sweeney as the payor in the settlement agreement.

"Legally, there is no difference between Cardinal Law, who is a defendant in these settlement agreements, and -- for all intents and purposes -- the archdiocese," Garabedian said Wednesday.

Law was scheduled to answer questions about the settlement agreement under oath Thursday.

Sweeney will hold a hearing July 31 to hear evidence on Garabedian's claim that the settlement agreement, reached in March, is binding. The archdiocese backed out of the agreement in May after its finance council said the church could not afford to pay the $15 million to $30 million to the Geoghan plaintiffs and then come up with additional funds to settle with dozens of other victims who have filed abuse lawsuits against other priests.

Last week, Sweeney ruled that the archdiocese cannot rely on the vote of its finance council to pull out of the agreement.

The motion filed by attorneys for Law and the archdiocese asks Sweeney to bar any evidence at the upcoming hearing suggesting that the archdiocese was a party to the lawsuit.

"The archdiocese was not a party in the underlying cases brought against Father Geoghan and was not a party to the agreement that is sought to be enforced, so why they would be trying to introduce evidence against the archdiocese seeking to tie it to this agreement -- that would all be relevant," said attorney J. Owen Todd.

Paul Martinek, editor-in-chief of Lawyers Weekly USA, said a party who is not named as a defendant in a lawsuit normally is not liable for damages. But, he said, the archdiocese could still be required to pay the settlement.

"There is an argument to be made that the archdiocese did assume the responsibility to pay the damages when this settlement was announced," he said.

"All the actions here would seem to indicate the archdiocese was accepting the responsibility. Why are you going to ask for approval (from the finance council) if you don't intend to pay?"

In other developments, a 30-day "cooling off" period in other clergy abuse lawsuits may be extended by two weeks.

Attorneys for alleged victims of retired priest Paul Shanley and the archdiocese agreed to the truce last month to try to negotiate a settlement.

The truce period is scheduled to end Sunday, but Sweeney indicated she may extend it until Aug. 5 if outside parties such as the news media raised no objections, the Boston Herald reported.

Jonathan Albano, an attorney for The Boston Globe, The New York Times and WBZ-TV, said Wednesday he would not object to the extension. Attorneys for the Herald also said they would not contest the extension

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