The attorney leading the legal battle against Father Neil Doherty for alleged sexual abuses won his first trial on the matter Thursday with a $100 million verdict against the priest.
Collection of even a fraction of that remains highly unlikely — a point Miami lawyer Jeff Herman concedes. But he said the result shows how repugnant the allegations remain.
“It’s a measure of justice for the victim. The jury is sending a strong message for would-be predators and that goes a long way for protecting children,” Herman said.
The trial was on damages only. There was no representation in court for Doherty, who remains jailed in Broward County pending a much-anticipated trial on eight counts of sexual battery, lewd acts or lascivious molestation. But the act of a trial to present evidence against the priest was important for his client, a man who claims Doherty molested him as a teen.
Until Monday, he was John Doe 69. But after hearing of the verdict on Tuesday, 40-year-old Michigan maintenance worker Andres Susana revealed himself to be the troubled teen Doherty abused.
“It empowered him enough to say I’m not going to hide anymore,” Herman said.
The Herman Mermelstein & Horowitz partner said that for victims, verdicts such as the one returned this week are “about getting the power back in their lives.”
Susana’s story is similar to many who allege the priest approached them when they were troubled and underprivileged boys, offering them help only to later sedate them with drugs and rape them.
The experience was traumatic and derailed Susana’s life further. He later resorted to drugs, had run-ins with law enforcement and was charged with strong-arm robbery, grand theft auto and more.
During the first day of trial Monday, jurors heard testimony from Chicago psychologist Lisa Karaitis.
“He has chronic traumatic stress disorder … and this is something he will have forever,” she said.
Herman said Doherty was deposed in jail. But the priest invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions about any alleged abuse. Doherty’s lawyer, J. David Bogenschutz of Fort Lauderdale, did not immediately return calls for comment.
Herman, who tried the case with associate Jessica Arbour, noted he has reached more than 80 settlements with the archdiocese. But this was his only case against the priest himself.
Doherty, now 68, was charged with the crimes in 2006. Despite the many accusations that have followed, he has never been laicized, that is, stripped of his rights as a priest.
On the matter of collectability, Herman noted Doherty owns property in Broward. But he said the size of the award shows that juries may peg similar values on related cases.