Jury Trial: Which Is the Better Option for Victims?
by Marci Hamilton
Are settlements or jury trials the best option for child
One advantage of a jury trial is that it can place responsibility
exactly where it belongs. For instance, the Dallas diocese
lost a civil trial based on Rudy Kos's sexual abuse. The jury
found that the diocese had committed fraud and engaged in
a conspiracy to cover up the sexual abuse, and awarded the
plaintiffs $119.6 million. When it rendered its verdict, the
foreman read the following brief statement: "Please admit
your guilt and allow these young men to get on with their
lives." The courtroom, by all accounts, erupted in applause.
(The plaintiffs later settled for $23.4 million, probably
to avoid endless appeals, but the point had been made - and
made very publicly.)
The recent settlement reached with the Boston archdiocese
was not nearly as satisfying a vindication for victims. Originally,
the agreement would have been for $30 million. But the Church
- despite its ability to go after its insurer for the money
- claimed it could not go on with its mission to aid other
victims if it paid that much. The claim seems dubious, to
say the least: Later investigation revealed approximately
$160 million in land holdings alone.
In the end, the Boston settlement had victims apologizing
to other victims for getting so little. They explained that
they just could not go on with a seemingly endless process
that prolonged the pain.
That is certainly a reasonable consideration. But victims
should think twice before accepting a settlement in lieu of
a trial. As difficult as a trial may be for victims, it offers
an opportunity to have their community--via the jury--express
its outrage on their behalf, which can have a strong healing
effect. In the Dallas case, for instance, the victims - once
isolated - through the trial found supporters to condemn the
Church's wrongs in no uncertain terms.
Victims may, in the end, find greater satisfaction in airing
the crimes and wrongs to a jury of persons from their community
- not just to the attorneys negotiating their settlement.
It is hard for a settlement to match the justice rendered
by that Dallas jury in 1997 - and more victims should persevere
to seek that kind of justice, which they deserve.
Copyright © 1994-2003 FindLaw
Marci Hamilton is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public
Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University.
Her columns on the Catholic clergy abuse scandal, and church/state
constitutional issues, among other topics, can be found on
Legal Commentary site. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.