Thursday, May 6, 2004

Seven more out of diocese abuse suit

They will pursue direct settlement

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

BURLINGTON - The judge presiding over a class-action sex-abuse lawsuit against the Covington Diocese has ruled that seven people could withdraw from the litigation despite missing the deadline to opt out.

"I think my clients are very, very relieved they are allowed to choose their own avenue in resolving their claims," B. Dahlenburg Bonar, a Covington attorney who is representing the seven people.

The seven, whose names have been kept confidential by a court order, have been fighting to be removed from the suit for two months. They hope to follow the path of 41 other abuse victims who have collectively received about $8.6 million since September.

The order makes it unclear how many people remain in the suit. The suit made international headlines in October when it became the first sex-abuse suit against a Roman Catholic diocese to be given class-action status. It is attempting to prove that the Northern Kentucky diocese mishandled claims of sexual abuse against its clergymen since the 1950s.

Two who will be allowed to opt out had argued that they were not informed of their right to leave the class. Four said they did not become aware of their right to opt out until after the deadline had passed.

The seventh person's attempt to opt out was challenged because his handwriting wasn't legible. Class-action attorney Robert Steinberg said he couldn't read the person's signature.

Steinberg had argued the seven should remain a part of the suit. He challenged the claim that he had not given people adequate notice of the opt-out date.

The opt-out form had been published several times in Cincinnati's two daily newspapers, three times in USA Today, two times in 20 additional daily newspapers and once in 90 weekly newspapers.

Steinberg said some of the people had also been told of an Internet site his firm built to inform people of the suit.

Senior Judge John Potter, who is presiding over the case, wrote in his ruling that the one person who didn't legibly write his name must resubmit the form.

Potter wrote there would be no legal reason to allow the seven to circumvent normal opt-out procedures if Steinberg had not agreed at a Oct. 20 hearing to accept opt-out forms turned in a "little bit late."

Potter warned that others would not be allowed to opt out. Too much time had passed since Steinberg said he would accept late forms to allow anyone else to leave the suit, his ruling said.


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