April 21, 2005

Abuse award may set standard

Mercury News

By Brandon Bailey and Robin Evans
Mercury News

In a decision that could raise the cost of settling hundreds of cases still pending against the Roman Catholic Church in California, a jury awarded nearly $6 million Wednesday to three men and a woman who were molested as children by a San Jose priest.

The final award was greater than Bay Area juries have awarded in two other recent trials involving clergy sexual abuse. San Jose attorney Robert L. Mezzetti II, who represents several clergy abuse victims, predicted it would ``clarify the standard'' for negotiating settlements in other cases.

Plaintiffs and jurors exchanged hugs and wept tears of relief after the award was announced in a San Francisco courtroom, where victims of the late Rev. Joseph Pritchard spent the previous two weeks testifying about the aftermath of depression, drug abuse, sexual problems and thoughts of suicide that haunted them into their adult lives.

``This is something so horrible that happened to these people,'' said Katie Atkinson, a 25-year-old juror who spoke after the verdict was announced. ``Just hearing the victims' testimony, what the abuse did to them, it just broke my heart.''

Posted by kshaw at April 21, 2005 08:52 AM