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Civil suit dropped against priest

Dec 24, 2005 | A Nome Superior Court judge has dismissed a civil suit against the Rev. James Poole, but left on course a trial against the Fairbanks Diocese and the Society of Jesuits.

The attorney for Jane Doe 2 called the ruling a victory, despite the fact his client's accused abuser won't stand trial.

"This has incredible ramifications for the other cases because this is the first decision about whether these things can go forward," Ken Roosa said. "These cases are still viable. These cases are not stillborn."

Judge Ben Esch ruled that the charges against Poole long exceeded the state's statute of limitations and dismissed him from Jane Doe's 2 civil suit. Poole still faces suits by Jane Does 3 and 4.

Two other women; Elsie Boudreau, who filed the first suit against Poole as Jane Doe 1, and Patricia Hess have settled with the defendants. Boudreau received about $1 million, while Hess and attorneys on both sides declined to discuss her settlement terms.

Attorneys on both sides have confirmed that Poole has admitted some of the abuse claims against him. The 82-year-old priest now lives in a Jesuit retirement home in Spokane, Wash., and has steadfastly declined comment.

"We're pleased with the decision, but there's still other things left to do, so we're not really at liberty to say anything else," said Poole's Anchorage attorney, Tim Lynch.

Roosa said the loss of Poole as a defendant was disappointing, but little more than symbolic. Poole swore an oath of poverty when he joined his order and his legal bills and penalties are being taken care of by the Jesuits.

"That's a problem for the victims," Roosa said. "They feel, I think righteously so, that the guy who abused them should be held accountable."

In his order, one of a number filed Dec. 16, Esch ruled that none of the plaintiffs' arguments for waiving the statute of limitations was valid. State law says the statute of limitations for criminal offenses committed against children 16 and under runs out three years after discovery of the injury. And for crimes committed against children after the age of 16, charges must be brought within two years of the victim's 18th birthday.

Jane Doe 2 did not file her complaint against Poole until decades after the alleged abuse. But Roosa argued that she did not understand the full scope of the crimes against her and their ramifications enduring psychological injury and emotional distress until recently.

In addition to telling a couple of priests and a cousin about the crimes, the defense argued "that Ms. Doe was aware of an injury when she contracted venereal disease, became pregnant, and obtained an abortion after blaming her pregnancy on her father, all as a result of the actions of Poole."

Esch agreed, but only in the case of Poole. He saw validity in the arguments against the diocese and the Jesuits.

"The plaintiff points to evidence that the Catholic Bishop and the (Jesuit) Oregon Provence were informed that Poole was acting in an inappropriate way toward young girls in a prior placement," Esch wrote. "He was transferred to Oregon for a period but was returned to Alaska and sent to Nome. There he was allowed to work with minimal supervision."

Because it is unclear when Jane Doe 2 could have found out about the role of the Jesuits and diocese in causing her injuries, Esch denied their claim for summary judgment. A trial is schedule for February in Nome.

If the case makes it to court, it would be the first of its kind to be tried in Alaska since claims began surfacing. Roosa represents about 90 clients who claim sexual abuse in civil suits against nine priests and two lay workers. He said the total number of suits soon will continue to climb toward 100.

"We've got cases we have yet to file against two more priests in the very near future," Roosa said.

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