April 18, 2005

Experts uncertain about Thatcher case's influence on future litigation

Alameda Star-Times

By Josh Richman, STAFF WRITER

It's not exactly clear who the winner was last week when an Alameda County jury awarded $1.93 million to two brothers molested by an Antioch priest 25 years ago.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland could end up paying Bob and Tom Thatcher more than

$1.5 million of that amount, but that's far less than the $27 million the brothers' attorney had asked for. In fact, the compensatory damages awarded to Tom Thatcher amount to less than even the diocese's attorney had suggested.

The brothers say they weren't in it for the money, but to create a legal record of the diocese's negligence in shuffling pedophile priests from parish to parish rather than preventing them from preying again. They also note that the $875,000 in punitive damages awarded to Bob Thatcher constitutes an almost unprecedented instance of an entire California diocese being punished as institutionally responsible for sexual abuse.

But it's hard to say how the trial and verdict will affect negotiations for a mass settlement of dozens of other similar civil lawsuits against the Oakland Diocese. Perhaps it will give other plaintiffs courage to hold out for more, knowing the diocese already has been held to account once. Or, with a record already established and relatively modest monetary returns in this trial, other plaintiffs might decide it's not worth the investment of time and emotion to go to trials of their own.

Posted by kshaw at April 18, 2005 05:57 AM