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Catholic Achdiocese Gives Lawyers Over $33 Million

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles released the details of a $100 million abuse settlement with 90 victims a few days ago.

Turns out when all is said and done, attorneys will walk away with between $33 and $40 million of the total amount.

With 554 abuse claims still outstanding in LA, if I were an unethical attorney with nothing better to do, I would jump on this gravy train in no time.

I'm not persuaded that $4 million (the largest awards in this settlement) is reasonable compensation in the first place. It strikes me as a wee bit astronomical, but the fact that 33%-40% of this settlement doesn't even go to the victims raises some serious questions of justice.

I find it odd that none of the supposed support groups for victims of clergy abuse are raising this concern. You would think they would be the first to call for reform of the legal system. It makes you wonder if they are more interested in revenge than restitution.

I guess the gospels are still accurate in their advice that it's better to settle with your opponent on the way to court, lest the judge hand you over to the attorneys, and they hold on to you until they get every last penny.


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Comments (1)


Your lawyer-hatred reflex is admirably developed, but a little perspective is in order.

Though I share your dim view of the million dollar individual awards, why do you simply assume that the lawyers involved are unethical and that justice has been perverted? You wrongly assume that the alleged victims hoped for $100 million but only got 60% of that. That is not how settlements work. The lawyers are hired to get what the plaintiffs want, and they charge for their services. If $40 million ended up with the lawyers, the appropriate assumption is that the plaintiff sought around $60 million and the lawyers went after that amount, adding their fees to get the total sum. You make it sound as though if the lawyers were working for free, all $100 million would have gone to the alleged victims, but this is not so. If the lawyers worked for free, the amount running to the alleged victims would be the same (though the cost to the diocese would have been obviously lower). Justice (or whatever it is that tort law affords) has been achieved to the satisfaction of the plaintiffs.

Legal expertise is expensive. From a law student’s books to filing fees to hourly billable rates, is it not a cheap commodity. And it shouldn’t be considering the labyrinth that is the US tort system and the fundamental rights that are at stake. But a commodity it is, and unless otherwise notified, we can assume that all law firms are business enterprises. The firm that negotiated the settlement had to compile legal theories and evidence compelling enough to bring a vast bureaucracy to the bargaining table. This involved studying law that remains unsettled, especially in the People’s Utopia of California (where all good law goes to die). Also, it involved research into events that occurred over a generation ago. Furthermore, they managed to extract an admission of guilt from the bishop which is not typical of settlements. Undoubtedly their services had a profit margin, but if these victims could have gone to Kinko’s and had their rights vindicated and justice served while they waited in the lobby, they would have done so. This is why victim’s rights organizations have nothing but praise for lawyers despite their fees. The fees are on top of, not taken out of, the desired settlement amounts. Also, these firms do the work for no money out of pocket and will collect no fees at all if they cannot achieve a decent settlement or jury award. Looking at it as a strictly economic endeavor, spending $1 to make $2 is an admirable return. Any investor would take that in an instant. And the beauty of the tort system is that the $1 spent to extract the $2 comes out of someone else’s pocket. It could be that the lawyers padded and exaggerated their hours, but I have seen no evidence or even allegations of this.

I assume you're thinking of Matthew 5.25 at the end of your post, but you'll note that the gospels make no mention of lawyers at all. The Matthew passage, I believe, speaks to the hard-heartedness of men who get hard treatment at the hands of the judges, not the lawyers, when they are not reasonable and forgiving with their neighbor. They had not invented lawyers in Jesus’ day, only scholars and judges. Jesus had no professionally trained representation to fight the man. If he did, maybe he gets off with just a flogging and then…uh…well…hmmm…never mind.

Seriously, though, lawyers serve a valuable purpose in our system as it stands. Now if your beef is with that tort law system, I am with you, brother, and there is much to discuss. What constitutes reform? What takes its place if tort law as we know it were to vanish? Criminal law deals exclusively with the public good. Tort law emerged as a method of vindicating individual rights which are ignored by criminal law. As an example, a widow may rest assured that the streets are safer when her husband’s murderer is put away by a criminal court, but that court does nothing to address her loss of financial support and (more dubiously) companionship. However, there is the noble assertion and protection of rights, and there is the aggressive marketing of victim remedies. For a ringing affirmation of your initial anti-lawyerism, check out the site of the firm involved in this settlement at www.kbla.com. Makes a guy cringe. I especially like the public searchable database of accused people that allows a person to go in and search for the names of any people or institutions they were associated with way back when. I’ll bet it becomes easier to “remember” abuse when you know that the perpetrator has already been accused. This firm is clearly unethical, but does that make the settlement unethical or a perversion? Is it the system itself that is perverted?

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