Firm Handling Clergy Abuse Fund Known For Fairness
The law firm handling the Scranton Diocese’s victims compensation program has a reputation for fairness and compassion in handling claims, two local attorneys who previously appeared before the mediator said.
Kenneth R. Feinberg of Washington D.C. has been involved in several high profile cases, including the fund set up to compensate victims of faulty ignition switches installed in General Motors vehicles and victims of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks.
Attorney Robert Gillespie Jr. and attorney Timothy Lenahan appeared before Feinberg several years ago -— Gillespie representing clients seeking damages from the Sept. 11 fund and Lenahan from the GM fund — and said they found him to be highly qualified to handle the task.
“I trusted the way they went about the process the compassion he showed,” Gillespie said. “He took into consider what the victim suffered and ultimately was fair.”
Lenahan echoed that sentiment.
“He is a truly gifted and fair mediator,” Lenahan said. “The protocol he established was reasonable and achievable.”
The diocese hired Feinberg in November to help develop its Independent Victims Compensation Program. The program, which is open to survivors who previously reported abuse as well as first time claimants, officially launched on Tuesday.
The diocese has not said how much money it has dedicated to the fund, but stressed that no parish funds, bequests or money from the Diocesan Annual Appeal will be used to pay settlements or Feinberg’s fee.
Six other Pennsylvania dioceses also contracted with Feinberg, who along with his business manager, Camille Biros, is solely responsible to review claims to determine if a victim is eligible to receive compensation and, if so, how much. They also handled claims for several dioceses in New York.
The first step is to determine if a claim is valid or fraudulent.
Biros said the burden of proof is much lower than what is required in a court case. She noted that of 1,300 cases they handled in New York, just 75 claimants were determined to be ineligible.
For victims who previously reported abuse, Biros said they review all records on file. First time claimants are more challenging. For those victims, they look for anything that could corroborate the person’s claim. That could include psychological records that showed they disclosed the abuse to a therapist, letters or journal entries.
“We are looking for some type of documentation — any kind of correspondence they may have had with a family member, law enforcement, journal entries — about the fact they were abused,” Biros said.
Other factors considered include whether other people also accused the alleged perpetrator.
“If the claim is against a priest who has never been accused before and there’s no other information that the claim can be proven, we are not going to make those eligible,” Biros said.
Biros said those people should still consider filing a claim, however.
“We try to work with each claimant when they come to us even if they have nothing,” she said. “In a number of cases, they came up with information that allowed us to go to the next step.”
Once the claim has been validated, the amount of compensation is based on the several factors, including age of the child when the abuse occurred, the nature of the abuse, where it occurred, how long it went on and the impact it had on their life.
Gillespie, a former Luzerne County district attorney, is part of a three-member panel that will oversee implementation Scranton’s program. He said he has full faith that Feinberg will be thorough and fair. The oversight committee, which also includes Ralph H. Meyer, a health care executive, and Robin Engels, a licensed clinical social worker, adds an extra layer of protection to ensure the program is managed appropriately.
”We have the responsibility of seeing that claims are timely acted upon and that victims have a chance to be heard,” he said.
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