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Orange County

Attempts to Settle Suits Fail

Diocese of Orange and alleged victims of abuse by priests still hope for out-of-court resolution.

June 18, 2004|From a Times Staff Writer

Three days of intense negotiations between lawyers for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange and plaintiffs alleging sexual abuse by priests have ended with no resolution immediately in sight, representatives of the two sides said Thursday.

Attorney Raymond P. Boucher, liaison counsel for more than 300 alleged victims in California, said he doesn't expect any progress in the settlement talks until Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Peter D. Lichtman returns from vacation this month.

Although the two sides have no immediate plans for more negotiations, others, including the retired judge serving as mediator, said informal talks could resume in the next week or so.

"We're still continuing to mediate and explore settlement," retired Judge Thomas F. Nuss said. "It's an ongoing process."

Maria Schinderle, the diocese's general counsel, agreed. "We do not consider us to be at a standstill. The Diocese of Orange is still working toward a settlement that is just and compassionate for all victims."

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, the diocese and its insurers met behind closed doors for nearly 12 hours Monday in an attempt to resolve the clergy-abuse suits. The mediation continued Tuesday and Wednesday with Nuss.

Bishop Tod D. Brown, in a Sunday letter to parishioners, had suggested that a settlement was near. He talked about a "window of opportunity" closing that could lead to "costly, time-consuming trials where the outcomes are unpredictable."

The diocese has offered at least $40 million to settle the cases -- not enough to satisfy lawyers representing alleged victims of sexual abuse by as many as 30 priests serving in Orange County over at least three decades.

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