LOS ANGELES � The $660 million record settlement announced last week between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and hundreds of alleged victims of sexual abuse includes a 40% cut for the plaintiffs’ law firms � all three dozen of them.
Nearly 100 lawyers represent 508 victims in the record settlement, which involves about the same number of lawyers on the other side defending the archdiocese, various religious orders, parishes, insurance companies or other parties in the cases.
On both sides, only a half-dozen law firms regularly have filed motions and taken depositions. Ray Boucher, a partner at Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Kiesel, Boucher & Larson, served as the coordinating lead plaintiffs’ counsel, while J. Michael Hennigan, a partner at Los Angeles-based Hennigan, Bennett & Dorman, was lead counsel for the archdiocese.
Neither returned calls, but other lawyers called the settlement “unprecedented.”
“I can’t underestimate what it took to get all the moving parts involved in that group of cases together to achieve a settlement,” said Irwin Zalkin, a partner at San Diego’s Zalkin & Zimmer, which represented plaintiffs in 13 of the cases. “This is a magnanimous effort on the part of everyone involved.”
The settlement, reached on July 14, involves individuals who claim that members of the clergy sexually abused them. After five years of negotiations, both parties reached the agreement days before the first cases were set to go to trial.
The deal requires the nation’s most populous archdiocese to turn over personnel documents to a retired judge in order to determine what should be released to the public.
Cardinal Roger M. Mahoney has repeatedly apologized in public statements to the victims. But several plaintiffs’ lawyers said the defense created a huge amount of work.
“It’s been an enormous piece of litigation,” said Jeff Anderson of Jeff Anderson & Associates in St. Paul, Minn., who, along with Boucher’s firm, represents 200 plaintiffs. “Part of that has been because of the seriousness of it, but the other part has been because the cardinal and the L.A. Archdiocese have played legal hardball.”
Those tactics translate into costs. Katherine Freberg, founding partner of Freberg & Associates in Irvine, Calif., one of the lead counsel in the cases who represents more than 100 plaintiffs, said the archdiocese took depositions from every family member of each sexual abuse victim and subpoenaed every lawyer, school official and medical provider. “Because of the aggressive tactics taken in the litigation, the resulting costs were expensive,” she said.
Much of those costs will be added to the estimated $264 million in attorney fees, she said.
Freberg has represented victims of sexual abuse in cases against the archdioceses in Orange, Calif.; San Diego; and Milwaukee. Her co-counsel, Stephen Rubino, a partner at Margate, N.J.-based Ross & Rubino, specializes in cases involving sexual abuse victims.