Ex-judge ponders role in $3M church settlement

The Cincinnati Post/December 2, 2003
By Kimball Perry

As she struggled to recover from seeing Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk stand in front of a judge in a historic criminal conviction two weeks ago, former judge Ann Marie Tracey answered her phone and got another shock.

The call was from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati asking Tracey, who stepped down earlier this year from the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court bench to teach at Xavier University, to be its representative on a three-person panel that will dole out money to victims of priest sex abuse from a $3 million fund.

"The idea of an archdiocese, which is the church, before a court (charged with a crime) was pretty shocking to me," Tracey said Monday.

After the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, represented by Pilarczyk, pleaded no contest and was convicted Nov. 20 of four counts of failure to report a crime, the archdiocese agreed to set up the $3 million victims fund.

The archdiocese makes one appointment. The office of Prosecutor Mike Allen will select a second and the two appointees will select the third.

The panel will review all claims submitted and decide who will be compensated from the fund and how much. The archdiocese has indicated claimants may file for compensation only during a 180-day window.

"It could very well be a no-win situation," Tracey admitted of her role, aware any decision she helps to make could be unpopular with someone.

But Tracey, a Catholic, believes she is uniquely qualified for the job.

Much of what she will be asked to do -- assess claims of accusers, determine weight of the evidence and argument and decide who should get what -- she's already done as a judge.

"Of course, that's what juries do all the time," she said.

The fund is controversial.

The archdiocese pleased some by opening up eligibility to it even to those whose lawsuits alleging abuse or cover-up in reporting the abuse have been dismissed.

Others attack the fund, though, because to apply for it, the applicant must drop all pending lawsuits alleging abuse or cover up and promise not to sue the archdiocese on the issue again.

"The money is not going to make people whole again," Tracey admits, suggesting the fund and the process could help bring closure to victims.

But Konrad Kircher, the Mason attorney representing 67 clients who accuse priests of sexually abusing them as children or the archdiocese of covering up or not reporting the abuse, says money won't hurt them, either.

Kircher lost another round Monday when Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge David Davis granted an archdiocese request to dismiss a suit filed by one of Kircher's clients because the statute of limitations had lapsed.

That suit accused the archdiocese of covering up the abuse. The statute of limitations for that kind of case is two years and the youngest victim in the suit turned 18 more than 13 years ago. At least two other suits have been dismissed for the same reason.

"I hope they're not disheartened," Kircher said of clients in the case, "because we've known from the beginning it was going to be a long, brutal battle. We're willing to go to the Ohio Supreme Court if necessary."

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