Friday, October 10, 2003

Abuse victims plead for quick OK of payment plan

Delay 'eats at us,' plaintiff says of suit against Louisville Archdiocese

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - Several plaintiffs in a $25.7 million settlement with the Louisville Archdiocese over sex-abuse claims pleaded Thursday for quick approval of a payment plan haggled over by lawyers.

"It just needs to get over soon," said plaintiff Martin Robertson, his voice trembling with emotion as he spoke at a hearing in Jefferson County Circuit Court. Robertson said the prolonged debate "just eats at us," stirring bitter memories among the 243 abuse victims.

Another plaintiff, JoEtta Blair, said long-repressed memories of her abuse have returned, causing her nightmares. Blair said she wants the matter resolved quickly, adding that her award will never "replace the innocence I lost" when she was abused as a child.

Judge James Shake said he would try to meet their wishes for quick approval of a plan to divide one of the largest settlements against the Roman Catholic Church. Shake said his role wasn't to create a plan or micromanage the distribution, but to ensure the money is divided fairly.

Cincinnati attorney Matthew Garretson, the court-appointed commissioner of the settlement fund, defended his plan to divide victims into three classes, based on severity of abuse.

William McMurry, who represents most plaintiffs, called Garretson's plan an "efficient yet fair way" to distribute the money.

Other lawyers advocated a five-tiered distribution system.

Michael Slaughter, an attorney for a handful of plaintiffs, said that plan would award more money to three-fourths of the victims.

Garretson said there was "no clinical basis" to justify the five-tiered plan making fine distinctions about abuse. He said it would put "too much onus" on him to "simply chop up the money."

Under Garretson's plan, 60 to 75 victims would be placed in the category for the most severe abuse and thus would receive higher awards, lawyers said. Five to 10 plaintiffs would fall in the least serious category, and the rest would be in the middle category.

Those most severely abused would receive $150,750 to $175,000. Victims in the middle category would get $75,750 to $110,000. Those who endured the least serious abuse would get $15,333 to $30,000.

In deciding how much victims receive in each category, Garretson would weigh factors such as the victim's age when the abuse occurred, how many times the molestation occurred and whether the abuser gave drugs, alcohol or pornography to the victim. Victims unhappy with Garretson's decisions could appeal to a "master commissioner."

One matter discussed Thursday was whether victims who recounted their abuse in long depositions should be eligible for higher awards.

Those victims had to "relive the same horrible feelings" from childhood, said plaintiff, Mike Clark. He said he was thankful he did not have to give a deposition before the settlement was reached in June.

"They have gone through a lot of pain, and I think they deserve something extra," Clark said.

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