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O.C. diocese to settle four abuse suits

Authorities agree to pay nearly $7 million to four women. Bishop faces a contempt of court hearing on sending a witness to Canada.

October 06, 2007|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange agreed Friday to pay nearly $7 million to settle four molestation lawsuits, including one against a former Mater Dei High School coach scheduled to go to trial next week.

At $1.7 million, the average payout to the alleged victims -- all women -- is significantly higher than the average $1.1 million paid to scores of plaintiffs in an earlier settlement by the Orange diocese and $1.3 million paid to Los Angeles plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs in the recent cases were students at the time of the alleged abuses between 1990 and 1999 by two Mater Dei faculty members, a Santa Margarita Catholic High School teacher and a choir director who worked at St. Timothy's and St. Edward's parishes.

The case about to be tried involved a lawsuit filed by a woman identified as Jane C.R. Doe accusing former Mater Dei assistant basketball coach Jeff Andrade of molesting her for more than a year, starting when she was 15. In a deposition taken as part of the lawsuit, Andrade admitted to having had sex with the teenager.

Ryan DiMaria, an attorney for the accusers, said the settlement was fair and the deals "made the best out of a bad situation."

"I'm very happy for the four girls that, to some extent, justice was able to be done," he said. "But nothing will give them back their childhood."

Attorneys on both sides said the agreements were reached after a flurry of negotiations moderated by a Los Angeles judge who convinced Bishop Tod Brown to show up at the courthouse and get directly involved in resolving the cases.

"The settlement of these civil cases represents the moral obligation for the church for such behavior by adults in positions of responsibility," Brown said in a news release. "By settling these cases, I sincerely hope that it will enable the women who brought these actions to begin the process of healing and reconciliation."

John Manly, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, characterized the statement issued by the diocese as "nothing more, nor less, than a litany of misstatements, misrepresentations and outright falsehoods" by the opposing side.

"At no point throughout this entire process did anyone from the Diocese of Orange or their lawyers say a kind word, offer healing, or do anything other than try to defeat the spirit of these four brave women," he said in his own news release.

The two sides said they still plan to be in court next week for a hearing to determine whether Brown should be held in contempt of court for sending Msgr. John Urell to Canada for medical treatment before he could complete a deposition in the Andrade case.

Manly and other plaintiffs' attorneys had planned to call Urell as a witness because he handled allegations of abuse against the diocese.

Attorneys for the diocese and Urell have maintained that he has acute anxiety disorder related to his responsibilities, and said the condition prevented him from testifying.

"Msgr. Urell's good name has been dragged through the mud by the irresponsible and untruthful comments," his attorney, Patrick Hennessey, said in a statement issued Friday. "Rather than try the case under the scrutiny of the court and the rules of evidence, plaintiff's attorneys tried this case in the news media using half-truths and innuendo. A trial would have proven without a doubt that Msgr. Urell had absolutely nothing to do with the case."

His client's treatment, Hennessey said, "was cruel and unfair and reflected callousness toward an innocent man and for all people who suffer from a debilitating emotional illness."

Peter Callahan, who represents the bishop and the diocese, said that Brown welcomes next week's hearing and is "ready, willing, able and anxious" to clear his name.

DiMaria said the plaintiffs are also looking forward to the hearing so that "the truth can come out about what Bishop Brown and Msgr. Urell have done."

Both sides plan news conferences Monday.

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christine.hanley@latimes.com

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