Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Split of abuse award explored

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - A proposal on how to divide a $25.7 million settlement between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville and 243 people claiming child sexual abuse drew complaints at a hearing Monday.

Lawyers representing a fraction of the plaintiffs gave their opinions on how the settlement should be distributed and whether their clients should be assessed fees by the lead attorneys in the class-action case.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge James M. Shake scheduled a July 28 hearing to determine the fairness of the settlement and to consider the allocation plan and attorneys' fees. As a class-action case, the settlement must be approved by the judge.

Attorney Douglas Morris, one of the lead attorneys in the class-action case, said he hoped the process moves forward quickly.

The plaintiffs, who claim they were abused by priests or others affiliated with the Catholic Church, will soon receive notices of the proposed settlement and allocation. During the hearing, one attorney said the notice shouldn't imply the distribution plan is a done deal.

"We don't want to give an impression through this notice to these clients that this thing is set," said Michael Slaughter, an attorney for a half-dozen plaintiffs in the settlement. "It's far from set."

William McMurry, who represents most of the plaintiffs, served with Morris as lead attorneys in the mediated discussions that led to the near-record settlement on June 10.

McMurry has proposed that Cincinnati lawyer Matthew Garretson be appointed to decide how much each plaintiff receives, based on a system that would place victims in one of five categories depending on the severity of abuse. Garretson would consider other factors, including the age of victims and the frequency of abuse.

Garretson was named recently to decide how to distribute a $4.5 million settlement by the city of Cincinnati with 16 plaintiffs who accused police of using excessive force in race riots in 2001.

Slaughter said some of his clients prefer equal awards for all plaintiffs, though it might result in lower amounts for them. Such a distribution would be "quicker, less complicated," he said. Plaintiffs would wait months to get their money under McMurry's plan, he said.

Morris said Monday it would be around November when first awards are distributed to plaintiffs under that plan.

Morris said suggestions by the other plaintiffs' attorneys would be considered in reaching a final distribution plan.

The archdiocese has until July 10 to put the settlement amount into a court-controlled escrow account.

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