The Archdiocese of Boston and a lawyer for 86 plaintiffs suing defrocked priest John J. Geoghan have reached a tentative accord that would pay the plaintiffs $10 million – about half the amount the archdiocese first agreed to, then rejected in May.
J. Owen Todd, the personal attorney for Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who as a defendant in many of the Geoghan-related lawsuits is accused of negligence, confirmed last night that a tentative agreement has been reached.
Mitchell Garabedian, the attorney who represents the 86 claimants, has obtained the formal approval or assent of all 86 of his clients for the reduced settlement, according to a lawyer familiar with the negotiations who asked not to be identified.
In March, the archdiocese and Garabedian agreed to a settlement that would have paid the 86 plaintiffs – 70 who were allegedly sexually abused by Geoghan and 16 relatives of victims – a total of between $15 million and $30 million. A mediator, Paul A. Finn, was to have decided the actual amount based upon the extent of harm each victim suffered. At the time, the final cost of the settlement was expected to be about $20 million.
According to some legal specialists, Garabedian has little choice but to accept the latest figure, with the archdiocese facing fresh claims from at least 200 victims of other priests and threatening bankruptcy unless plaintiffs settled for less.
Garabedian did not return phone calls and Todd did not discuss details of his talks with Garabedian, except to say, ”We do have a tentative agreement.”
However, a lawyer involved in the discussions between both sides said that Garabedian had informed the archdiocese’s lawyers that he had signatures or the sense that all 86 had approved the deal.
Todd said in a telephone interview that his office had been in contact with Garabedian yesterday as he tried to get the agreement of all his clients to the financial deal being offered by the archdiocese.
For several months, lawyers who represent other victims have viewed the Geoghan cases as a logjam. Until they were settled, those lawyers argued, the other cases would not be seriously negotiated.
The new agreement, if it is formally endorsed by both sides, would be the product of a legal environment that has been radically altered since the priest sex abuse crisis broke open in January. At that time, Garabedian and his 86 clients represented almost all of the pending sex abuse claims against the archdiocese.
But even as the two sides reached their initial settlement, it was already clear that the archdiocese would face claims by at least 200 more alleged victims of other priests. Although Law had endorsed the agreement, his Finance Council, which reviews major expenditures by the archdiocese, balked at the expense, and voted it down. Garabedian, saying he felt betrayed, asked Suffolk Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney to uphold the earlier agreement as a legally binding contract.
Sweeney has been poised to rule on that request. But in the interim, the archdioese had signaled that it might file for bankruptcy if Sweeney ruled in Garabedian’s favor. The archdiocese has argued that it could not afford to pay the larger settlement to the Geoghan clients and still reach equitable settlements with the other claimants who have hired lawyers since January.
One official said that the archdiocese would provide a total of $10 million to Geoghan victims to be divided among them according to the seriousness of the abuse they suffered and their emotional distress. About 50 of the 86 were allegedly victims of serious abuse by Geoghan. Twenty others included alleged victims whose claims were based upon Geoghan exposing himself to them at a Waltham Boys and Girls Club.
Geoghan was convicted of molestation charges in Middlesex Court in January and is serving an eight-year sentence. A Suffolk Superior Court judge reinstated other charges of sexual abuse of minors against Geoghan last week. He faces trial on those charges later this year.
Garabedian and the lawyers for the archdiocese are expected to finalize the agreement in a week or two. They would then present it to Sweeney.