After the intense last-minute courtship of a lone holdout, attorney Mitchell Garabedian will tell a judge today he has all the signatures needed to finalize a pivotal $10 million settlement in the Archdiocese of Boston abuse scandal.
The deal is expected to be cemented this morning in Suffolk Superior Court after the judge overseeing the case, which involves 86 alleged victims of defrocked and jailed pedophile John J. Geoghan, approves it on behalf of the one minor involved in the lawsuit.
“If all goes according to plan, I will hand them the 86 releases in court and they will hand us a certified check,” Garabedian said. Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney yesterday scheduled the hearing for 11:30 a.m. today.
The final holdout, Janet Green of Saugus, mother of two of the 86 plaintiffs, yesterday blasted the church over its “unfair” final offer in the Geoghan case – a deal being scrutinized by attorneys for some 350 other plaintiffs suing the church for alleged abuse by scores of clerics dating back 40 years.
Green said the deal leaves her sons, both alleged rape victims, barely $200,000 apiece – before Garabedian’s fees of one-third and his legal expenses are subtracted.
By comparison, the archdiocese frequently settled individual rape suits for twice that amount in the 1990s – years during which the church was also paying for silence by routinely insisting on confidentiality agreements before payouts.
“I feel we have all been manipulated into seeing this as the only way out of this mess,” said Green, who is to receive $10,000 for “loss of consortium” – a phrase for the harm to her relationship with her children caused by alleged abuse.
“Basically,” she said, “we’re being told, `sign now and you’ll have a check in two weeks, or else we’ll be in court for five more years.’ ”
Garabedian, who accepted the $10 million offer last month and has been working nonstop since to garner the 86 signatures, defended his and his clients’ decision to accept the $10 million deal. The new settlement would moot a breach-of-contract suit before Sweeney from the Geoghan 86 urging her to impose an earlier archdiocesan offer of as much as $30 million.
“In the end you must do what’s best for your clients,” he said. “They have suffered enough. This case has been in the system for three years and these victims want to put this disgusting chapter in their lives behind them once and for all and move on to closure.”
Attorneys for many victims have been eager to see the Geoghan suit settled so that the church’s overtaxed law firm could begin to focus on settling their cases, too.
Several lawyers say they have heard nothing for months from the Rogers Law Firm, counsel for the archdiocese. Yet in recent weeks church officials have strongly signaled they want to settle as many cases as possible by year’s end.
Officials familiar with church thinking say the Geoghan case was a key impediment. The church has wanted a major settlement formalized in court to help it set parameters for future abuse payouts.
In broad terms, the Geoghan case allots about $116,000 per victim of clergy molestation, although payouts will vary based on “degree of harm suffered.” According to Garabedian, cash for his plaintiffs will break down as follows:
50 alleged abuse victims will divide $9.3 million. The six “most harmed” by Geoghan will receive $330,000; seven who suffered “a bit less harm” will get $205,000; 34 others will receive $165,000; and three others will receive $95,000.
20 plaintiffs who allegedly saw Geoghan naked will receive $27,000, for a total of $540,000.
16 who, like Janet Green, “lost consortium” with kin will receive $10,000 apiece free of legal fees.
The amounts, Garabedian said, represent a third of the maximum amount his clients could have received under the $15 million to $30 million deal the church abandoned in May. The church says it walked away from that deal as too costly given that there are more than 400 people now suing the archdiocese.
Some lawyers say they find the parameters established in the lesser settlement more or less acceptable given the historically low payouts to victims of civil suits by Massachusetts juries. Under state law, juries cannot impose punitive damages, just damages to compensate a victim for direct losses.
“I do not find those numbers to be outside the ballpark,” said attorney Alan L. Grenier of Danvers, who represents victims of jailed abuser and former Catholic youth worker Christopher R. Reardon.
But attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who represents scores of abuse victims and is litigating the high-profile suit against the jailed Rev. Paul R. Shanley, said the Geoghan accord “has no effect on us at all.”
“We are getting ready for trial,” he said. “The church is deposing our victims next month, including a 13-year-old raped by Reardon.”
David Clohessy, head of a national group representing abuse victims, assailed the church on the Geoghan case. “This was a textbook case of how not to treat survivors from start to finish,” he said. “The archdiocese used every conceivable legal and PR strategy to beat down these survivors.”