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Spotlight Report

Church, claimant lawyers to meet

By Walter V. Robinson and Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 11/13/2002

For the first time in months, lawyers for the Archdiocese of Boston and its principal insurance carrier met yesterday with lawyers whose firm represents the bulk of the more than 300 people who say they were sexually abused by priests.

Jeffrey A. Newman, of the law firm Greenberg Traurig, said last night that the participants agreed not to discuss what was said. But Newman said that a second meeting will be held a week from today involving every lawyer representing someone with a sex abuse complaint against the archdiocese.

''Nothing can happen until all the other lawyers are in the room,'' Newman said.

J. Owen Todd, a lawyer for the archdiocese, would say only that there was a ''constructive exchange of views.''

Another lawyer who was at the meeting said a major barrier to any settlement of the cases is the position of Travelers Insurance Co. that it is responsible only for between 10 percent and 12 percent of the claims because it insured the archdiocese only between March 1983 and March 1989. The lawyer, who spoke on condition that he not be identified, noted that the majority of the alleged abuses occurred before that period.

What's more, the lawyer said, the insurer also argued that the liability coverage it provided does not cover the abusive acts, because there is evidence that the archdiocese acted recklessly in not taking steps to remove abusive priests from ministry.

Legal specialists have said that there is little chance the cases can be settled unless Travelers and a prior insurer, Kemper Insurance Companies, agree to pay most of the tens of millions of dollars it might take to settle the cases.

Similar meetings last summer proved fruitless. But with some of the cases fast approaching trial, and the potential for catastrophic damage awards, the legal experts have said the insurance companies now have a greater incentive to waive their objections.

The three-hour meeting came on the eve of a series of hearings scheduled today by Suffolk Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney to discuss how to proceed with so many cases. As many as 30 lawyers who represent the alleged victims are expected to crowd into her courtroom.

In advance of the hearing, the archdiocese, without explanation, withdrew a motion yesterday asking Sweeney to issue an order protecting the church, on First Amendment grounds, from having to turn over documents to lawyers for the alleged victims.

Walter Robinson can be reached at

This story ran on page B4 of the Boston Globe on 11/13/2002.
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