ST. FRANCIS – Seventeen months into the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings that will allow the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to reorganize in a manner that will compensate eligible victims of clergy sexual abuse and continue the ministries of the church, one thing is certain: It’s an expensive process.
As of Tuesday, June 12, legal fees in the case had topped $4 million.
“In Chapter 11, we (Archdiocese of Milwaukee) pay both sides,” said Jerry Topczewski, archdiocesan chief of staff, June 12. “Our goal has been to minimize the unnecessary motions and responses and try and focus on the things that move the case forward.”
He said, as he has throughout the process, that there is one matter that the court needs to answer so that the proceedings can move toward resolution.
“Which claims are eligible is the main question,” Topczewski said.
Approximately 550 claims were filed by the Feb. 1, 2012 bar date. In late April, the archdiocese asked the court to throw out seven of those on grounds that claimants had already reached a settlement with the archdiocese, the claim had surpassed the statutes of limitations, or the person against whom the claim was being made was not an employee of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Topczewski noted that “more than 150,000 pages of documents” have been requested by the creditors’ committee from the archdiocese.
“That means that every document has to be looked at by an attorney to make the determination if any redactions are necessary to protect the identity or circumstances of an individual abuse survivor,” he said. “You can’t just take the chance that the document doesn’t need to be looked at. Someone has to look at the document and say, ’No, this is fine’ or ‘No, this needs redaction because it has someone’s name in it or someone could be identified.’”
Topczewski said the archdiocese “knew going in it was an expensive process with regards to legal fees, but it’s a proceeding, and at the end of the day we will emerge from it with a fresh start with the goals we outlayed at the beginning: compensate those that have been abused and have eligible claims, and continue the ministries of the church.”
He noted that mediation, something that has occasionally been mentioned during the proceedings, was offered by the archdiocese.
“We had a good track record of settling cases and reaching out to people through the mediation system,” Topczewski said. “I always remind people that we tried to mediate these cases, too, before Chapter 11 – unsuccessfully. Now, this is the process we’re in, so we deal with it the best way we can.”