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Another Look at the Clergy Abuse Settlements

Though reasonable minds can differ on the ethics of lawyers engaged in the Church abuse scandals (see “Catholic Archdiocese Gives Lawyers Over $33 Million” and comments below), it must be admitted that these suits, and the tort law that has spawned them, call into question our conception of justice.

Exhibit A is to be found at www.kbla.com, the home page of the firm that negotiated the recent Diocese of Orange settlement. It is not the money they collected for their services that should be disquieting, but the manner in which they marketed their services. A quick perusal of the site reveals that the firm is “a consumer litigation boutique,” which means that they troll the crankiest and most populous class of Americans, consumers, looking for profitable angst that can be collected and litigated. Their site side bar features complaints they have filed that might strike a chord with a few hundred other ”consumers” and their “Publications” link opens a page bursting with articles designed to inflame the indignation of the curious. Their business model seems to be to find a bad product or procedure, publicize its existence and exactly why a “consumer” ought to be outraged, file an individual complaint when an accomplice comes forward spouting the verbiage they read on the firm’s site, and then advertise aggressively that the gravy train is about to leave the station.

Though they are currently handling tort du jure thoroughbreds such as Fen-Phen, their approach to the clergy scandal is most troubling. Their site features a secure “victim form” and “hotline” for potential plaintiffs to get on board. They inspire potential litigants with messages like this one:

“Those of you who have been reluctant to come forward because of shame, guilt, fear, and emotional pain, these are emotions shared by many of your fellow abused… Those predators who took advantage of young boys and girls at their most vulnerable must be held accountable for the sins of the fathers and those who have protected them. This office is working hard to make this happen.”

But the vertex of this mountainous arrogance and avarice is what they call the “Database of Clergy Accused or Convicted of Sexual Abuse.” This technological marvel allows litigation shoppers the ability to search for specific names of persons or intuitions that have come under the shadow of suspicion, and are therefore fair game. Is your old middle school on the hit list? How about that cranky old priest who taught you geometry? You can look them up. But the firm is so dedicated to justice that they allow you to search by state as well. So simply searching for “CA” brings up a list of 156 individual names of accused Californians. Clicking on the name will reveal the reason for the individual’s election to the hall of shame, and many are as flimsy as this:

“Authorities say [this priest] was the subject of a complaint within the last decade involving a teenage boy.”

A single allegation is all it takes. And since allegations are free, the gravy train grinds on and on. As mentioned below, it would seem to be much easier to “remember” long past assaults if you are free to browse for any familiar names knowing that someone else has already cast suspicion on them. This devious tool tempts every visitor with promises of cash to pull a Richard Rich while at the same time smearing the names of priests and religious that once might have been presumed innocent.

This is justice? My torts class did not cover this.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 12, 2005 12:03 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Suffering *TM.

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