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Spotlight Report

Lawyers warned before deposition

Concerns raised on past exchanges

By Matt Carroll, Globe Staff, 6/1/2002

After hearing complaints about ''wildly inappropriate conduct,'' a judge yesterday sternly admonished attorneys to behave during depositions to be taken next week of Cardinal Bernard F. Law and a former Boston bishop.

Attorney Robert A. Sherman, who represents people who say they were sexually abused by the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, complained at a court hearing about the behavior of church attorneys, saying ''it's our desire to take the temperature down.''

Sherman was referring to attorneys Timothy P. O'Neill and Wilson Rogers III, who raised the ire of plaintiff attorneys during a recent deposition of Sister Rita McCarthy. The nun was questioned about her roles in cases involving the sexual abuse of children by priests.

O'Neill and Rogers improperly interrupted the deposition of McCarthy, coached her during questioning, and made improper objections, according to a motion filed earlier this week by Roderick MacLeish Jr., a partner of Sherman's.

The motion was withdrawn from a hearing yesterday, but was addressed informally by Middlesex Superior Court Judge Raymond J. Brassard, who is hearing motions in the lawsuits, which name Law as a defendant.

The exact exchanges between the attorneys and McCarthy are not known because the transcript of her deposition has not been released to the public.

''I'm defending a 74-year-old nun and these guys are trying to push her around,'' said O'Neill. Defending his tactics, O'Neill said, ''I'm not a potted plant, you know.'' He said that he had planned a response to the motion but didn't file it when it was withdrawn.

Rogers could not be reached for comment.

Brassard told the attorneys he expected them to follow the rules during a deposition, which include short objections made in a non-argumentative way.

''Everyone wants to have these cases focused on the conduct of the church and not on the conduct of the attorneys,'' said Sherman.

Law is expected to be deposed on Wednesday and Friday. Because of an earlier ruling by Brassard, the transcripts of both days could be released to the public on Friday. Normally, people who are deposed have 30 days to review their transcripts. But Brassard said the importance of Law's deposition put it on a different footing than most.

Brassard's ruling stood in stark contrast to a ruling made by Judge Constance Sweeney on a deposition Law gave on May 8 in the case of John J. Geoghan, a former priest who was convicted of molesting a child. A transcript was released later that day, which upset Sweeney and Law's attorneys. Sweeney then ordered that Law have 30 days to review the transcripts before they are made available to the public. Judges have wide latitude, however, in deciding when transcripts can be realeased in depositions.

Also yesterday, two attorneys representing clients who had allegedly been abused by different priests announced they would be working together on some cases. MacLeish, who represents alleged Shanley victims, among many others, and Jeffrey A. Newman, who is representing alleged victims of the Rev. Ronald H. Paquin, said it made sense to team up since each knows a great deal about priests that the other is not as familiar with.

Newman will be at MacLeish's depositions next week of Bishop John B. McCormack of New Hampshire on Monday and at Law's later in the week.

This story ran on page A10 of the Boston Globe on 6/1/2002.
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