The lawyers for the Archdiocese of Agana intends to challenge the public law that was recently passed lifting the statutes of limitations. If the law is determined to be unconstitutional, it will be struck down by the courts. That will also bring an end to the civil lawsuits filed by the alleged victims. According to The Pacific Daily News:
U.S. District Court of Guam Magistrate Judge Joaquin Manibusan granted on Monday separate requests of three California-based lawyers from two law firms to represent the Archdiocese of Agana in clergy abuse cases, along with local counsel John C. Terlaje.
They are Attorney Paul E. Gaspari, shareholder at the San Francisco-based law firm of Weintraub Tobin Chediak Coleman Grodin; Attorney Mary McNamara, a partner at the San Francisco-based law firm of Swanson & McNamara; and Attorney Britt Evangelist, an associate also at Swanson & McNamara.
The three U.S.-based lawyers have the expertise and experience that the archdiocese legal team needs, Terlaje said.
Gaspari, for example, represented Catholic archdioceses in California in clergy abuse cases, one of which resulted in the affirmation of a dismissal claim against the archdiocese.
Terlaje said the legal team is preparing the archdiocese’s response to lawsuits filed by former altar boys who alleged they were abused by Catholic priests.
The law lifting the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases is relatively new and is open to challenges, he said.
That law paved the way for at least 15 former altar boys to sue current and former priests, the archdiocese and up to 50 entities that may have helped, aided, abetted, concealed or covered up the clergy sexual abuses.
Terlaje’s law firm requested and received in December nearly 600 pages of documents related to the development of the law lifting the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases. The request was sent and responded to by the office of Sen. Frank B. Aguon Jr., whose committee held hearings and worked on the bill. The Legislature passed the bill with a 13-0 vote.
Gov. Eddie B. Calvo on Sept. 23, 2016, signed that bill into law, eliminating the statute of limitations on lawsuits against those who abused children, as well as the institutions that supported the abusers.
Calvo at the time said the new law “opens the doors of justice to those who suffered a terrible harm as children,” but cited several legal and technical concerns with the bill, including whether it is unconstitutional to retroactively lift the statute of limitations on civil suits.
On Jan. 24, six former altar boys started filing their clergy abuse lawsuits in the U.S. District Court of Guam after eight trial court judges in the Superior Court of Guam recused themselves from hearing their cases, citing conflicts of interest or potential conflicts of interest. Superior Court judges cited relationships with either the alleged clergy abuse survivors or the defendants, including Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron and the archdiocese.
Between Nov. 10 and Jan. 27, eight judges filed a total of 84 disqualification notices related to clergy abuse cases.
Three days after the six federal court filings, the three California lawyers petitioned the court to allow them to practice on Guam to act as co-counsel for the archdiocese.
Terlaje said the three lawyers were on Guam last week to meet with the archdiocese’s leadership, including Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes, about the clergy abuse cases.
“Hopefully, it’s not going to be a long, drawn-out battle, but that depends (on a number of things),” Terlaje said. “The new law will be challenged for the first time. It was signed only a few months ago.”
But while the archdiocese’s legal team is preparing a legal battle that Terlaje hopes will not be a long, drawn-out one, Terlaje said “there’s always room for settlement,” just like in any other case.
Archbishop Savio Hon Tai Fai, sent by the Vatican in June to temporarily administer the Catholic Church on Guam when Apuron was placed on leave over sex abuse allegations, had said the archdiocese is setting up a trust fund to help those who said they are victims of clergy abuse. Apuron, Guam's archbishop for nearly 31 years, is among the priests accused of raping and sexually abusing altar boys.
Terlaje also acknowledged that the filing of clergy abuse lawsuits in federal court presents additional challenges, but said he is confident in the expertise rendered by the U.S.-based law firms.
The lawsuits filed in federal court started referencing the Vatican, the seat of the Catholic Church. The lawsuits state the Hagåtña archdiocese is an entity under the control of the Holy See, based in Vatican City, Rome, Italy, and as such constitutes a citizen of a foreign country for purposes of diversity jurisdiction. The Vatican also confirmed that Apuron's canonical trial is ongoing.