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Spotlight Report

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Lawyers weigh response to O'Malley's $55m offer

By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff, 8/14/2003

awyers for 542 people who have made legal claims against the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston huddled in a downtown office building yesterday and said that within days they will have a counterproposal to the $55 million settlement offer made last week by Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley.

The two sides differ on money issues -- O'Malley's offer has been described by lawyers on the other side as everything from "woefully inadequate" to "a good start" -- but lawyers for the plaintiffs say they are confident that the new leadership of the archdiocese is bargaining in good faith.

About 35 lawyers representing most of the alleged victims covered under O'Malley's proposal held a mass meeting in the Financial District yesterday morning at the One International Place offices of Greenberg Traurig, the law firm that represents roughly half of those affected by the settlement proposal. A smaller steering committee of about six lawyers met yesterday afternoon and is scheduled to meet again this morning.

Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston lawyer who is also a member of the steering committee, said he expects the group to have a counterproposal for the archdiocese soon. "We're talking about days," said Garabedian, who represents about 100 people who have filed legal claims against the archdiocese.

Garabedian said that over the last several days, lawyers have discussed dollar figures, mechanisms for deciding how much of the settlement each plaintiff would receive, and "intangibles requested by clients," such as requiring the archdiocese to further strengthen policies aimed at preventing future abuse.

O'Malley made a bid last week to end the massive civil litigation surrounding the worst scandal in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States by offering $55 million, which appears to be nearly twice what any diocese or archdiocese has paid at one time to settle claims of sexual abuse by clergy or other church employees.

Because the money would be divided among so many plaintiffs, lawyers for alleged victims almost immediately said they considered the offer a starting point for negotiations, rather than an end to the legal challenge.

Even so, they said that O'Malley's offer, made less than two weeks after his installation as archbishop, was positive and in sharp contrast to more than a year of frustrating and unproductive settlement talks that preceded it. Lawyers said O'Malley's gesture was so positive that they agreed to suspend almost all active litigation in the 542 claims.

Under the O'Malley proposal, the archdiocese would waive all its legal defenses, but would not participate in the process of dividing up the money.

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