January 7, 2004
Lawyer says abuse settlement near
80 percent of victims said to OK deal
By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff, 10/17/2003
A lawyer representing hundreds of clergy sexual abuse victims said yesterday that 80 per cent of the 542 eligible people have accepted the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston's proposed $85 million settlement offer, meaning that the deal could soon become official.
Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer for the Boston firm of Greenberg Traurig, which represents more than 260 alleged victims, said the deal has not become official because all of the signed consent forms from victims have not been sent to Thomas H. Hannigan Jr., the lead attorney for the archdiocese. MacLeish urged the other 56 lawyers representing victims to send the consent forms to Hannigan as soon as possible.
"I know for a fact that 80 percent of the agreements have been executed," MacLeish said. "We need to move forward. People's lives are on hold. We should start the arbitration process right away."
Under the tentative pact reached last month, once 80 percent of the abuse victims covered by the settlement offer sign on, lawyers and arbitrators can begin working on an intensive, three-month process of evaluating each of the more than 500 expected settlement claims to determine how much each victim will receive.
Lawyers representing victims have said for weeks that they expected to easily achieve the 80 percent threshold and that they expect the eventual participation rate to be as high as 98 percent, with as few as a dozen or so clients choosing to go to trial.
Paul A. Finn, the Brockton arbitrator whose company will handle the huge, complex arbitration scheme worked out by lawyers for the archdiocese and for victims, said yesterday that the 80 percent participation rate had not been achieved and said that no arbitration sessions had been officially scheduled.
A spokesman for the archdiocese called talk of a finalized settlement premature.
"Mr. Hannigan is very optimistic that we will receive signed settlement agreements from at least 80 percent of the claimants in the very near future," said the Rev. Christopher Coyne. "It's important to keep in mind that under the agreement, the last day for the plaintiffs to opt in is Oct. 23, not today. There's still plenty of time.
"We're very optimistic, but we don't have the 80 percent number in hand at [Hannigan's] office. And it's his office that is the one that receives the tally for the number of settlement claims."