ST. FRANCIS — Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki discussed the archdiocese’s June 1 court appearance, mounting legal fees, the need for a deadline for filing claims, and was critical of sensational media reports in a June 2 “Chapter 11 motions update” email to priests and staff of the archdiocese.
He was sharply critical of attorneys for the creditors who claim the archdiocese continues to hide things or suggest there is “new information to be discovered.”
“This is hogwash,” he wrote, explaining that the “Chapter 11 process and the civil lawsuits that pushed us there are an adversarial process, so the claim is no surprise.”
In the email, the archbishop re-emphasized that the decision to enter into Chapter 11 was made to conserve resources until a plan of reorganization could be reached with creditors, especially clergy abuse survivors. It was an effort, he wrote, to contain legal fees that were escalating annually, while continuing the ministries of the church. Yet in the nearly four-months from Jan. 4 to April 30, after the archdiocese announced its intent to enter into Chapter 11, the legal fees have approached nearly $1 million.
“Remember, by the rules of Chapter 11, the archdiocese has to pay the lawyers to both sides – and one of the things lawyers are good at is generating fees. Some of these attorneys are billing the archdiocese at $650 per hour! While some may want to minimize the expense, the costs are real,” he said.
He also explained that taking depositions is “an incredibly expensive process.” An average deposition costs $25,000 to $30,000.
“Multiply that by the 10 depositions asked for by the creditors’ committee and you can see that this process would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that’s just for starters. There could be even more depositions after that, draining even more resources,” he wrote.
For that reason, he stressed the importance of setting a “bar date,” a deadline for filing claims. “It seems futile to spend time and money on depositions at this point,” he wrote. “We could take (and pay for) depositions now, only to find out later that additional questions need to be asked and additional depositions necessary, costing even more money.”
Attorneys for victim-creditors filed a motion on Friday, May 20 asking the court to allow them to proceed with depositions. According to communications director Julie Wolf, no decision by the court had been made known to them as of Tuesday, June 7.
The archbishop explained that the archdiocese does not necessarily oppose additional depositions relevant to the process.
“What we do oppose is spending money that could be better used to reach resolution with our creditors,” he wrote.
The archbishop was critical not only of attorneys, but of the media.
“Attorneys want to publicize embarrassing testimony and attack individuals for decisions made, using the 20-20 hindsight of today. Media want to sensationalize complex stories in to out-of-context sound bites,” he wrote.
A court hearing on three motions filed by the archdiocese was held on Wednesday, June1. In his update, the archbishop explained the archdiocese asked:
- permission to continue paying financial portions of mediation agreements reached with survivors prior to the bankruptcy. The judge, Susan V. Kelley, approved the payments for 2011, but noted they would be subject to the bankruptcy code once a final settlement is reached.
- permission to continue the mediation process with two more survivors who had asked for mediation prior to the bankruptcy. This was also approved by the judge, but with the contingency that no financial agreements could be reached at this time.
- for the highest level of protection for the names of victims/survivors to protect their privacy. The judge agreed confidentiality was important and ruled that the names be kept under seal of the court.
In his email, Archbishop Listecki explained that the creditors’ committee of victims/survivors opposed all three of these motions and in doing so, were highly critical of chancellor Barbara Anne Cusack and the independent mediation system, designed in 2003 by Eva Soeka, director of the Center for Dispute Resolution Education at Marquette University, and former associate dean at Marquette University Law School at the request of Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan.
The archbishop defended Cusack’s work.
“Barbara Anne has worked with numerous victims/survivors, including throught the mediation system, and I know of her pastoral sensitivity, care and concern for those who have been harmed. The mediation system was independent and voluntary, and designed to assist survivors in reaching resolution with the church,” he wrote. While he admitted that no system could be completely perfect, he noted that it was used “successfully by more than 180 people.”
The archbishop concluded by noting that while the road ahead is not smooth, “at the end of the day, we know our compass is pointed in the right direction if it is focused on Jesus Christ and his church and if we rely on his grace to guide us.”