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Clergy abuse suit back on Vt. docket

Mistrial halted case vs. diocese

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Associated Press / November 23, 2007

BURLINGTON, Vt. - A man suing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington over alleged sexual abuse by a priest returns to court Monday, five months after a judge abruptly declared a mistrial in his case.

The civil suit brought by James Turner, 46, a former Derby man who now resides in Virginia Beach, Va., will be tried again in Chittenden County Superior Court. It still will involve the same lawyers, some of the same witnesses, and the same issue - but with a new judge presiding.

Opening statements to the 10-woman, four-man jury, including two alternates, are set for next week.

"We look forward to bringing this case in front of the jury, and taking it through to completion," said Turner's lawyer, Jerome O'Neill.

The diocese and its lawyers did not comment.

The statewide diocese, which represents about 118,000 Roman Catholics in Vermont, has about 25 lawsuits pending that allege sexual abuse by priests. It has paid out more than $1 million in settlements in other cases, but Turner's was the first to go to trial.

Turner says that Alfred Willis, who was then a priest, performed a sex act on him in a Latham, N.Y., hotel room after attending a June 1977 ordination for Turner's brother. Turner, who was 16 at the time, did not sue the diocese until 2004 - more than 26 years later.

Willis, who denies the allegations, settled out of court with Turner and was removed from the case against the diocese that alleges church officials are liable for his behavior.

The church contends that it had no prior knowledge of sexual misconduct with minors by Willis and cannot be held liable in the case.

The first trial ended unexpectedly June 25 when Judge Ben Joseph ruled that David Cleary, a lawyer for the diocese, had overstepped the limits of a pretrial order restricting what could be asked of Turner about an alleged sexual relationship between Turner's brother and Willis.

Joseph later ordered the diocese to pay Turner's legal fees and expenses - more than $112,000 - for causing the mistrial. And, in an Oct. 5 order, Joseph imposed the trial costs on the diocese, saying the mistrial delayed the progress of other sex abuse claims against the diocese and gave the church an advantage in preparing for the retrial.

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