July 16, 2007
New London lawyer Robert Reardon says the Catholic Church has gone from denying that priests committed abuse to trying to limit damages by exploring other possible reasons why a plaintiff has emotional problems.
An Advocate For Victims Of Priest Abuse
Lawyer says Catholic Church has changed tactics in defending claims
New London plaintiff's lawyer Robert I. Reardon has won $5.55 million from the Catholic Church on behalf of clients who claim they were sexually molested by priests. His most recent settlement, March 6, was for $599,000 in the case of F. Glenn Sutherland against the Rev. Stephen Foley, who until a year ago drove a Crown Victoria outfitted like a state police cruiser, with emergency lights and sirens. In the 1970s, when Sutherland was a 12-year-old altar boy, Foley allegedly took him to a beach house in Niantic and allegedly molested him.
On March 4, Reardon began picking a jury in Hartford in a trial with John W. Sitarz of Cooney, Scully & Dowling in Hartford, representing the Hartford Archdiocese. The litigants settled the following day, as a private detective Reardon hired was attempting to track down Foley, who unexpectedly left Hartford for Virginia, and was beyond the reach of the civil court. Sitarz politely declined comment about the settlement.
Senior Writer Thomas B. Scheffey discussed the case with Reardon.
LAW TRIBUNE:Were there particular circumstances in this case that increased your clients' damages, or made the case unique?
ROBERT REARDON: Before this case, I have settled several cases involving Father Foley. Each one settled for a different amount. Each was arrived at based on the damages each individual experienced. One settled for $850,000, another for $550,000 and this one for $599,000. We have a fourth case that is scheduled for trial in January 2009, with the same defendant. All involved the Archdiocese of Hartford.
LAW TRIBUNE: How do you go about establishing damages? Do you need an expert?
REARDON: Yes, that's why each case is different. We look at how the individual has dealt with this horrible experience of molestation by a priest over the course of his life. We have the benefit of hindsight because each of these individuals is an adult. These gentlemen are all in their 40's now. Some have done better than others. Some have required psychological counseling for long periods of their lives. Some have had long periods of unemployment or inability to work. Some have had a lot of matrimonial problems, or relationships with other people..
LAW TRIBUNE: What type of experts do you use?
REARDON: Certainly psychiatrists, psychologists are among the experts that we use.
[The expert in the latest case was] David Johnson, who is the medical doctor at the post- traumatic stress center in New Haven. He does a comprehensive testing and evaluation. He's a psychologist who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder. Most of our clients have had treating physicians and psychologists over their lifetimes. Dr. Johnson gives us an overview of this treatment.
LAW TRIBUNE: How long have you been bringing priest molestation cases?
REARDON: The first one was in 2001.
LAW TRIBUNE: Has there been a difference in the way these cases have been defended?
REARDON: When I began, there was a general feeling that the Catholic Church would defend on the basis of liability and damages, denying that the priest did anything wrong. Later, they seemed to recognize that it was more likely than not that molestation occurred. ...There are 11 cases in which the Archdiocese of Hartford has paid millions of dollars for Father Foley. It's hard for them now to say they don't think Father Foley molested anyone. Initially they were suspicious of the claimants, and thought people were making false claims for monetary gain. As a result they would frequently take depositions of the plaintiff's family members, to see if the person would lie under oath to get money from the Catholic Church.
LAW TRIBUNE: Trying to put the plaintiff on trial.
REARDON: Very similar to what we've heard about in rape cases, where the victim is put on trial. That strategy seems to have waned. [Recently] the strategy has been to take the position that the Catholic Church did not have knowledge of the acts. They almost always challenge the level of damages, and claim that other things, such as unemployment and bad marriages, brought on the problems. The difficulty with that argument, I've found, is that very few people have major problems in their lives before age 12 and 13. All the defense can point to is problems that arose after the molestation, so it's likely that the other problems were brought on by the molestation.