Friday, May 28, 2004

9-11 mediator appointed to settle diocese abuse cases

Hiring fulfills judge's request

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

BURLINGTON - The man administering the Sept. 11 victim compensation fund has been tapped to try to broker a settlement for the remaining claims of sexual abuse against the Covington Diocese.

This is the latest move by the diocese to resolve all sexual abuse claims against it since Bishop Roger Foys was installed in July 2002. The diocese has settled 43 individual claims - including two last week - for nearly $9 million in the last nine months.

In a joint motion filed Thursday in Boone Circuit Court, attorneys for both sides say they have retained Kenneth R. Feinberg as their mediator.

"Mr. Feinberg has an excellent reputation and a vast amount of experience in the mediation of complex litigation," said the Boone County court document jointly signed by the diocese and the attorney for the alleged victims. "He is currently serving as Special Master for the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund of 2001."

Congress established the fund to provide for lost wages, pain and suffering and other damages. Those who participate agree to waive their rights to file lawsuits related to the attack.

Attorney General John Ashcroft chose Feinberg, a former aide to Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., to oversee the fund.

Feinberg is responsible for setting up regulations to determine the awards for individual victims and administering the fund, including disseminating all public information dealing with the effort and overseeing personnel in the program.

He was available to help resolve the abuse claims, according to the court document, because administering the Sept. 11 fund will be completed by June 15.

Feinberg has also mediated litigation involving Agent Orange, the herbicide used during the Vietnam War that was linked to health problems among veterans; silicone breast implants; tobacco; asbestos, and a wide variety of commercial and financial disputes, according to the court document.

Feinberg, who founded the Feinberg Group of Washington, couldn't be reached for comment. His company Web page says he has taught at some of the nation's top law schools, including at Georgetown University, New York University and the University of Virginia. He has served on numerous presidential commissions.

"We view this mediation as an opportunity to extend the reconciliation process to victims who have not come to us directly," said Diocese attorney Carrie Huff of Chicago. "Mr. Feinberg is a superb mediator and we are very grateful that he is willing to help the parties work toward a resolution of these claims."

Robert Steinberg of Cincinnati, who is representing alleged victims, said mediation is a good process to resolve a case, but there are no guarantees it will produce a result.

The hiring fulfills a request by Senior Judge John Potter, who is overseeing a class-action suit against the diocese. Potter had asked both parties to present a proposed settlement plan by this week.

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 the Northern Kentucky diocese mishandled claims of sexual abuse against its clergymen since the 1950s.


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