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Lawyer opposes consolidating priest abuse cases

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- The lawyer for 13 alleged victims of sex abuse by Catholic priests in Vermont has asked that each case be tried separately.

Jerome O'Neill has sued the statewide Diocese of Burlington in Chittenden Superior Court on behalf of 13 clients charging five former Vermont priests with child sexual abuse.

During a hearing Friday, Judge Ben Joseph asked O'Neill if the cases should be consolidated into one.

O'Neill said no.

''We think the cases are sufficiently different that consolidating is not an option," O'Neill said after the hearing.

O'Neill, chairman of the Burlington Police Commission and a former federal prosecutor, has a track record of winning such individual cases.

The lawyer compelled the diocese to settle one priest misconduct case last year for a $150,000 payment -- the largest such agreement in state history -- and another for $120,000.

Edward Paquette is the man accused in eight of the 13 cases.

Paquette, who worked in Rutland, Montpelier, and Burlington from 1972 to 1978, is 76 and retired in Westfield, Mass.

He has denied the allegations.

O'Neill also has filed one case each involving former Vermont priests James Dunn, age unknown, James McShane, 64, and George Paulin, 62.

He has filed two cases against Alfred Willis, 61.

The diocese has had to pay settlements -- nearly $400,000 in the last two years -- with money on hand or other assets, since it lacks insurance for such cases.

Church leaders say the money doesn't come from regular collections at Mass or from the annual drive known as the Bishop's Fund, but from a separate account designed for unforeseen events.

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