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Judge Halts Mediation in 60 Abuse Suits Against Clergy

Associated Press
Sunday, July 25, 2004; Page A10

LOS ANGELES, July 24 -- A judge has broken off mediation talks in 60 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy and has recommended that plaintiffs' lawyers be allowed to take sworn testimony from Bishop Tod D. Brown and other top church officials.

Further confidential talks "would be counterproductive and would actually serve as an impediment to further settlement discussions," Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Peter D. Lichtman said Friday.

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Under a recent state Supreme Court ruling aimed at encouraging open mediation, documents prepared for closed-door mediation talks cannot be used at trial.

Lichtman is the mediator in the lawsuits filed against the Diocese of Orange County and does not have authority to order church officials to give sworn testimony. Instead, his recommendation goes to the trial judge.

Lichtman's action ended 19 months of efforts to resolve the lawsuits, which seek various amounts of damages, without going to trial. He also sought the judge's guidance on negotiations between the diocese and its insurance carriers.

Raymond P. Boucher, lead attorney for hundreds of cases against the Catholic church in Southern California, said the judge's decision "gives the parties an opportunity to more fully and more publicly" discuss the case.

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