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A potential showdown over whether insurance documents related to coverage of clergy sex abuse claims filed against the Archdiocese of Santa Fe should be sealed fizzled Monday when lawyers for four companies voiced no objection to the records generally being filed publicly.
How much insurance carriers will pay toward a settlement of nearly 400 claims filed by abuse survivors is one of the remaining obstacles to resolving the four-year-old archdiocese case in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Albuquerque.
Issues related to the scope of the coverage, potential insurance company payouts and related court orders have been kept under seal for almost a year after the archdiocese contended public disclosure could breach the terms of its insurance agreements.
Lawyers for the archdiocese last month indicated that they would be asking U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David T. Thuma to make a ruling regarding certain confidential agreements entered into with “historical insurance carriers” dating back to 1996 and others to before 1977. And again, the archdiocese asked Thuma to seal that request for a ruling, and the related insurance agreements, to ensure there is no reason for the agreements to be “unenforceable,” said Albuquerque attorney Thomas Walker, who represents the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, during a brief court hearing Monday.
“I appreciate there is general dislike for things to be filed under seal. It’s not the preferred way to go,” Walker said.
Lawyers for abuse survivors who filed claims in the bankruptcy case argued there were no valid legal reasons for sealing the documents, stating in one motion, “the need for transparency is overwhelming and creditors should not be kept in the dark … ”
Attorneys for Great American Insurance Company, Arrowood Indemnity Company, St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company and United States Fire Insurance company told Thuma Monday they had no objection to the insurance agreements being public as long as certain personal information, such as the names of victims and other identifiers, were redacted. The documents were not filed immediately on Monday, awaiting the judge’s final order.
Meanwhile, Walker reported that the archdiocese continues to liquidate its non-mission-essential assets to help pay victim claims, adding more than $8 million to the prospective fund from two auctions of miscellaneous properties over the past year and the sale of a significant property in Santa Fe. The recent sale of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Retreat Center, which at one time was a Catholic seminary, will generate about $6.3 million after commissions and closing costs are deducted, he said.
A second phase of a public auction of miscellaneous properties just concluded, Walker said, garnering about $1.7 million. An initial auction last year netted $1.4 million, Walker said.
Victims’ attorneys have reached a tentative settlement as to the total Archdiocese of Santa Fe contribution, but the amount has not been made public.