Here’s a life lesson we’ll bet your momma didn’t teach you but which you should heed nonetheless: Be wary of large institutions with a lot of money at stake when they propose a plan to settle their legal issues.
That’s the advice we’d give to those who’ll be deciding whether to accept the Albany Catholic Diocese’s proposal to settle more than 400 sexual abuse cases brought against clergy under the state’s Child Victims Act.
If the institution that will likely be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in financial awards to sex abuse victims is proposing a mass settlement, you can bet the deal is about protecting the interests of the institution, not the victims.
The plan would, among other stipulations, force victims to agree to have cases settled by an arbitrator and funded by a trust fund set up by the diocese and its insurance companies.
The proposal would also, according to a report in the Times Union, require victims to give up their claims against the church and to sign confidentiality agreements to prohibit disclosure of the claims they make.
That means that the public and other victims would no longer be made aware of the details of some of the church’s crimes or its attempts to cover them up.
Attorneys for victims argue that the church’s “Path Forward Plan” proposed last week is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, much like the pedophile priests themselves.
They say the church is using the treat of bankruptcy (which it will probably file for anyway) as justification for depriving victims of their rights and of maintaining the decades-long cover-up. They also say the proposal would stop the ongoing pre-trial discovery, and that the diocese would not be compelled to continue producing information about its knowledge of and handling of abuse allegations.
Of course, one could say the church isn’t the only one with a financial stake in the outcome of this litigation.
Trial lawyers stand to make millions of dollars on legal fees for cases that move forward. If all the litigation is shut down and future allegations are allowed to go by the wayside, the lawyers bringing these cases lose a lucrative source of revenue.
That’s why the judge or judges who decide the fate of the diocese’s mediation plan need to base their decision not on what’s best for the church or the lawyers, but exclusively on securing justice for the victims — those who have come forward and those who have yet to disclose their own victimization.
The courts can’t let the church be allowed to sweep the allegations under the rug in exchange for providing fast but unsatisfactory financial awards to its victims.
But they also can’t allow the lawyers to continue to press litigation to the degree that bringing cases becomes its own legal cottage industry, to the detriment of the victims.
When accountability, transparency and justice are being threatened, consider who’s got the most to gain from making a deal.
Then rule against them.