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Don't let huge legal fees chew up money intended for victims

Judge James Trancredi, who is overseeing the bankruptcy filing by the Diocese of Norwich, is concerned that massive attorney fees could eat up the diocesan resources and leave less money for victims of sexual abuse.

So are we.

In July, the diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Bishop Michael Cote said at the time the diocese was using Chapter 11 bankruptcy to assure that the many plaintiffs could be treated with equity when it comes to awarding damages, rather than seeing the resources exhausted on the first plaintiffs who manage to get settlements. It would also give the Catholic diocese a chance to reorganize with what assets remain after the bankruptcy.

Everyone — the judge, the diocese, the U.S. trustee attorney Steven MacKey — agree that the goal should be to preserve  resources to compensate victims who as children were sexually abused by priests or brothers. If that is the case, these bankruptcy proceedings should be more cooperative than adversarial, and the diocese should be able to pare down its army of attorneys.

MacKey told the judge that the choice by the diocese to employ two legal firms — Ice Miller and Robinson & Cole of Hartford — is boosting the legal costs. And the judge at a recent hearing pointed to excessive charges for paralegals that are employed on the diocesan legal team.

The diocese reached a fiscal breaking point when more than 60 men filed lawsuits contending they were raped and sexually assaulted as boys by Christian Brothers and other staff at the diocese-run Mount Saint John Academy for troubled boys in Deep River from 1990 to 2002. Former Bishop of Norwich Daniel Reilly, now retired, led the school’s board of directors.

If the priority is compensating victims, the bishop needs to issue a directive to find the means to cut legal costs. If not, Judge Trancredi should act sooner than later to implement his warning to use spending caps on legal costs and other measures to control expenses.

It would be a travesty if attorney fees eat up the money meant to compensate the abused.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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