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Lawyers battle over diocese suits

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Attorneys representing alleged victims of sexual abuse by clergy in the Diocese of Gallup have asked a judge to allow civil trials to proceed in three cases as a way to “break logjams” in the diocese’s chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The request followed the failure of court-ordered mediation talks last month.

An attorney for the diocese, meanwhile, is asking U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge David T. Thuma to order another round of negotiations with a new mediator.

The Diocese of Gallup in 2013 became the nation’s ninth Roman Catholic diocese to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in response to a growing number of lawsuits filed by alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests.

Motions filed in the case indicate that mediation efforts failed because parties, including the diocese’s insurance companies, could not agree on the value of claims filed against the diocese.

James Stang, a Los Angeles attorney who represents 57 alleged victims, told Thuma that civil trials “will lead to a speedier conclusion of this bankruptcy.”

The trials “will provide valuations of abuse cases” and “force the debtor and its insurance carriers to make a reasonable evaluation of the claims” filed by alleged victims, Stang wrote in a motion.

Trials of abuse claims are “a constructive way to break logjams” in bankruptcy cases, Stang wrote.

In 2010, a bankruptcy judge in Delaware allowed civil trials to proceed against the Diocese of Wilmington in 2010, resulting in a prompt settlement in the diocese’s chapter 11 bankruptcy, he wrote.

The case likely to come to trial first is one filed by an Arizona man who alleges he was abused by The Rev. Clement Hagaman, who is named as the perpetrator in 18 abuse claims filed in the bankruptcy, Stang said.

Hagaman, who died in 1975, is among 30 priests and one lay teacher named by the diocese as having had “credible allegations” of sexual abuse made against them.

Susan Boswell, a Tucson attorney representing the diocese, asked Thuma earlier this month to order parties in the bankruptcy to continue mediation under a different mediator.

A hearing is scheduled Friday in Thuma’s court in Albuquerque.