After two years of mediation, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange and attorneys for 60 alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse worked late into the evening Monday, again optimistic that a multimillion-dollar settlement was imminent, attorneys for both sides said.
The deal was close enough that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Owen Lee Kwong asked the plaintiffs to be in court, the first time their appearance has been requested since negotiations began. The talks resume this morning.
“At least it’s encouraging,” said Joelle Casteix, who is suing the Orange Diocese for alleged abuse. “I think having all the survivors here is scary for the diocese and eye-opening for the judge. Up until now we’ve been nothing but paperwork” to the court.
Previous negotiations collapsed in June when the two parties found themselves millions of dollars apart on a settlement. Bishop of Orange Tod D. Brown had offered more than $40 million, several people close to the negotiations said.
A $40-million settlement would have been the second-highest by a diocese in the nation. In 2003, Boston paid $85 million to 552 victims of clergy sexual abuse.
Monday’s movement toward a settlement may have been spurred by a hearing scheduled for Wednesday to gauge the progress of the negotiations. The mediation deadline was originally in July but was extended.
“It appears that for the first time all parties are working toward resolution, and so there’s some light, but a long way to go,” said Raymond P. Boucher, court-appointed lead counsel for the alleged victims.
Dozens of plaintiffs filled benches after dark in the otherwise empty courthouse in downtown Los Angeles, while their lawyers huddled with representatives of the diocese, reviewing documents.
A settlement with the Diocese of Orange could create a model to be followed in resolving about 500 cases pending against the much larger Los Angeles archdiocese, lawyers said.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys and other observers say the average payout in the Orange cases will influence the Los Angeles archdiocese cases. The cases in Los Angeles and Orange -- along with two other Southern California dioceses -- are consolidated and part of a coordinated negotiation process.
If mediation fails, the lawsuits move toward trial. The only California jury to reach a verdict in a clergy sex-abuse case awarded $30 million to two brothers in 1998. The Stockton court reduced the verdict to $13 million, and it was settled with the diocese for $7 million.