- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 20, 2002

Lawyers Jeffrey R. Anderson and Anthony J. Fontana Jr. have been described by many in their profession as "pioneers in a lucrative legal niche" suing the U.S. Roman Catholic Church and other religious institutions over accusations of clergy sexual abuse.
Both men have won millions of dollars in judgments and settlements over the years representing men and women charging abuse by wayward priests in more than 15 states. Both lawyers are advertising for more clients.
Mr. Anderson, who practices in St. Paul, Minn., is suing the Vatican and three Roman Catholic archdioceses, accusing all four parties of covering up sexual abuse at a Catholic boarding school in Florida and an Oregon monastery.
"I don't see myself not embracing a case that doesn't have a cause," Mr. Anderson said in an interview. "As long as I have the ability to save a child or to mend a broken soul, I won't be stopping anytime soon."
Mr. Fontana echoed Mr. Anderson's sentiment. "I'm not stopping because I don't think the abuse is going to stop," he said. "Pedophiles will always be out there. Maybe the new policies will make it harder for them to get to the children, but they'll always still be there."
Plaintiffs' attorneys typically take a third of damage awards.
Mr. Anderson and Mr. Fontana are just two in a string of lawyers nationwide who have taken on the Catholic Church:
Jeffrey Newman, Mitchell Garabedian and Roderick MacLeish Jr., lawyers in Boston, have taken on 110 new cases of sexual abuse. Mr. Garabedian has obtained a $20 million settlement with the Boston diocese on behalf of 86 clients charging abuse by priest John Geoghan, who has been defrocked.
The international law firm of Greenberg Traurig LLP is gearing up to handle sexual abuse cases in 11 states where the firm has offices.
Cindy Robinson, a lawyer in Bridgeport, Conn., represented at least 11 victims who said they were abused by the Rev. Raymond Pcolka. Last year, the Bridgeport diocese settled accusations against six priests for an estimated $15 million.
Claudia Eklund, a lawyer in Cleveland, sued the local church on behalf of a 19-year-old man who said he had been molested by a Catholic school principal. The principal was convicted of rape charges in 1997, but the church offered no conciliation.
Katherine Freberg, a lawyer in Southern California, negotiated a $5.2 million settlement last year against the dioceses in Los Angeles and Orange County on behalf of Ryan DiMaria, who said he was abused by his Catholic high school principal. The church has since expelled more than a dozen priests in the two districts.
Describing himself as a "little but tough guy," Mr. Anderson, 54, is the only lawyer to win punitive damages against the Roman Catholic Church, and he has done it three times. He said he has represented more than 500 cases of abuse against church officials and has won an estimated $60 million in judgments and settlements.
Mr. Anderson has been pursuing sexual abuse cases against priests, churches and corporations, including Northwest Airlines Inc., since the 1980s.
He took his first sexual abuse case in 1983 when a young man walked into Mr. Anderson's office and said he had been molested by a priest who belonged to the St. Paul Diocese. The church offered $500,000 to settle the case, but the man turned down the offer. Mr. Anderson later settled the case for more than $1 million.
"I have a burning intolerance for injustice and for powerful institutions like the Catholic Church that would crush the souls and spirits of individuals," Mr. Anderson said. "It's about making things right."
Mr. Anderson brushes aside critics who call him "anti-Catholic." He said he was married in a Catholic church and raised his two children there, but he was uncomfortable with the authority of organized religion.
"I'm not anti-religion. I have a spiritual life," he said. "I am anti-fraud and anti-audacity. I'm against churches and institutions who use power to crush the souls of innocent children."
Mr. Fontana, who practices in Abbeville, La., has represented hundreds of plaintiffs and has settled at least three cases with the Lafayette Diocese during the past 20 years. He could not say exactly how much he had earned in settlements and judgments, but he estimated the amount to be in the millions of dollars.
Mr. Fontana, 52, handled the first nationally publicized sexual abuse scandal involving clergy. He represented the victims of the Rev. Gilbert Gauthe, a popular priest in Lafayette who was indicted on 35 counts of molestation in 1984. Gauthe later received a 20-year prison sentence for molesting 11 boys.
It's the "arrogance" of the institutions that drives Mr. Fontana to pursue such cases. "I'm Catholic. I grew up in a Catholic church, and I went to Catholic school. This is something that concerns all Catholics," he said. "I have a severe distaste for arrogance and abuse of authority. And if we don't do something about it now, it will ruin families and our communities in the future."


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