Lawyers say diocese slow to release priest abuse records

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ALBANY — Dozens of personal records of clergy and others associated with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany as of noon Friday had not been turned over to attorneys for hundreds of victims who allege childhood sexual abuse.

Despite court orders ordering the diocese to turn over documents and public proclamations from Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger and other officials that the diocese is transparent, attorneys said more than half of the processing files and personnel of about 60 accused priests had not been disclosed before a court conference on Friday.

The pre-trial discovery process is meant to unfold as a slow mediation plan is being negotiated by the church and attorneys for more than 440 alleged abuse victims who have filed lawsuits against the diocese — or priests, parishes and schools – under New York’s Child Victims Act.

During Friday’s conference before State Supreme Court Justice L. Michael Mackey, attorney Cynthia LaFave, who serves on a mediation liaison team for plaintiffs, told the judge that t was essential that the lawyers also received the personal files of the priests. as detailed information on the insurance policies and financial assets of the diocese.

A lawyer for the diocese and the plaintiffs’ attorneys both submitted proposed orders to the court last week detailing the steps they said were necessary to move forward. Time is of the essence, both sides said, as the diocese warned it would have to file for bankruptcy if any of the court cases go to trial. In June, the diocese agreed to pay $750,000 to settle a case that was to go to trial in July.

“We need the information requested in the order we proposed, as this information is necessary for us to reach any type of settlement with the diocese and other parties,” LaFave told the judge, adding that knowing the details of the diocese’s assets and liabilities as well as what he knew and how he “could have protected the survivors” from abuse are critical to their ability to sign any settlement.

Michael L. Costello, the diocese’s longtime attorney, presented the progress of the mediation in a different light, telling the judge that the two court-authorized mediators had most of the information they needed, including a “insurance matrix” and financial information.

“I want to reaffirm that the Diocese of Albany is committed to fully and fully participating in this court-supervised mediation process if necessary,” Costello told the judge.

In a separate statement to The Times Union on Friday, Costello said the diocese has met its obligation to turn over treatment records and personal records of priests and others accused of child sexual abuse and rape.

“We are committed to an ongoing production of personal records of ordained priests,” he said. “We have produced several records and the next tranche of personal records is being prepared for release to attorneys (Friday) when I return to the office this afternoon…. The Diocese has and continues to comply with all requests for records and information provided by the appointed mediators and the court”.

Later Friday night, Costello confirmed that he had forwarded 20 personnel files to attorneys for the alleged victims.

Lawyers for the plaintiff said they needed to look at the details of the insurance policies, not just general coverage information. They said the records documenting the diocese’s handling of the allegations against the priests and others are also essential to review because in some cases the degree of negligence may have been higher. Some of the records already made public through court filings show that some victims were sexually abused by members of the clergy after these priests were returned to the ministry after being “treated” for previous abuse allegations.

“What’s said in public is not what’s said in private, and we’re not allowed to talk about what’s said in private because it’s part of a mediation,” LaFave said. “They object to things that we’re asking that they should rightfully turn over to the bankruptcy court or the Supreme Court. … In this whole process, it’s more than just writing a check. We need to have the information that I I asked.”

In April, the diocese’s efforts to keep the psychological treatment records of alleged pedophile priests secret were thrown out by a state appeals court in a ruling that was to affect thousands of Child Victims Act cases. At New York.

The appeals panel also upheld Mackey’s decision ordering the diocese to turn over the personal records of at least 48 priests whom the church determined had been credibly accused of child sexual abuse on a period from 1946 to 1999.

Additionally, the appeals court also upheld Mackey’s decision ordering the Diocese to turn over reports and other notes from investigators hired by the Diocese – some of whom were retired FBI agents – who had investigated allegations of sexual abuse against priests and other employees.

The decision impacted pretrial discovery evidence in the hundreds of cases filed against the Diocese of Albany.

Mallory C. Allen, an attorney whose firm argued the case on appeal, said the diocese should have returned the years “to years ago” and not objected to their disclosure.

Mitchell Garabedian, a Massachusetts attorney who represents victims suing the Diocese of Albany and was involved in an $85 million sex abuse settlement reached with the Diocese of Boston two decades ago, told the judge the month last that pretrial discovery had to go forward because many of the accused abusers — as well as the victims and witnesses — are elderly, ill or dying.

“The evidence is disappearing,” Garabedian told the judge in July. “We’re talking about irreparable damage here. We can’t recover that for the survivors.”

The mediation process is initially supposed to establish how much money would be available to compensate victims. This reserve of money, which would probably amount to hundreds of millions of dollars, would be financed by the diocese of the 14 counties, its parishes, its schools and its insurance companies.

But attorneys for the plaintiffs said Friday they had not yet been told whether parishes and schools would be included in settlement account funding. Costello said those institutions are ready to participate, although the number of participants is unclear.

The diocese also provided its initial financial offer last week – offering a sum of money it would put in place to pay the victims – but the details of that offer remain confidential.

For those who agree to participate in a mediation plan, arbitrators would review each case and decide – based on factors such as the level of sexual abuse and the physical and emotional damage it caused – how much individual victims should be paid. There would be a point system and limits set on minimum and maximum compensation.

The next trial is scheduled for early September, but a settlement conference in the case was scheduled for Friday evening.

At the end of Friday’s court proceedings, Mackey scheduled the next mediation negotiations conference for September 9.

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