Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Lawyers say judge not biased vs. diocese

Covington Diocese is seeking his removal

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

BURLINGTON - Plaintiffs' lawyers have come to the defense of a Boone County judge accused of being biased against the Covington Diocese in the nation's first class-action lawsuit alleging sexual misconduct by priests.

Diocesan attorneys have petitioned Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph Lambert to remove Circuit Judge Jay Bamberger, citing his friendship with a trial consultant hired by the plaintiffs and the fact that he knows some of the alleged victims.

Attorneys Stan Chesley, Bob Steinberg and Michael O'Hara, who represent the victims, filed court papers Monday with Lambert. They accuse diocesan attorneys of smearing Bamberger's reputation in order to have the case reassigned.

"Defendant's tactic has been to make baseless accusations of unethical behavior against ... Bamberger by filing a defective motion to recuse, hoping to goad him into an angry response and then seek disqualification based upon his alleged animosity toward defendant for questioning his impartiality," Chesley wrote in his 25-page response to the request to disqualify the judge.

Chesley claims diocese attorneys Mark Guilfoyle and Carrie Huff are "forum shopping."

Much of the debate about Bamberger's objectivity centers around his relationship with trial consultant Mark Modlin, who has been hired by the plaintiffs.

Bamberger says his friendship with Modlin will not influence him. Chesley says diocesan attorneys Guilfoyle and Huff knew of Modlin's involvement from the beginning, but didn't object until after Bamberger ruled against the diocese.

Bamberger certified the nation's first class-action lawsuit against a Catholic diocese in October.

Diocesan attorneys filed a motion to have Bamberger recused on Nov. 12, more than nine months after the case was filed, and one day before a hearing scheduled to set a trial date.

The plaintiffs' lawsuit, filed Feb. 4, claims an illegal course of conduct by the diocese during a 50-year period allowed hundreds of children to be sexually abused.

"The diocese continuously and knowingly violated Kentucky law requirements to report acts of child sexual abuse by known pedophiles that were its priest and religious officials. Instead, it consistently reassigned these known pedophiles to positions where they had close contact with children," Chesley wrote.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati in late November entered a plea of no contest and has been convicted criminally of similar conduct, Chesley wrote.

Lawyers on both sides have declined comment and referred to their written pleadings.


E-mail jhannah@enquirer.com

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