The Day – Judge extends deadline for Diocese of Norwich to file bankruptcy plan

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A federal bankruptcy judge on Tuesday extended the deadline for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich to file a bankruptcy plan, even though counsel for the committee of people who say they have been sexually assaulted by diocesan priests sharply criticized lawyers’ fees and diocesan financial experts. so far devoted to the case.

During the nearly three-hour hearing, Judge James Tancredi, who in September criticized the diocese for the money it was spending on legal and financial service fees, considered a motion from the diocese to extend its exclusive period for filing your Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan. It was due to expire on Friday.

Diocese attorney Louis DeLucia said the size and complexity of the cases warranted an extension and listed a list of legal issues that have been addressed and resolved since the diocese declared bankruptcy in July.

“It’s not an easy thing, your honor,” he told Tancredi, adding that this was the diocese’s first request for an extension.

DeLucia said it is not factual to say that the diocese’s fees are exorbitant and unreasonable and said they are similar to those raised by other dioceses in similar cases.

He said much of the work had been done up front and there would be a “dramatic drop in fees” as the diocese nears a deadline of around four months for victims to file claims.

But Eric Henzy, one of the lawyers for the Plaintiffs Committee, said the $ 1,150,000 the diocese spent during the 11-week period July 15 to September 30 cannot be justified, given the size of the case and what has been accomplished so far. .

The diocese has accumulated a total of more than $ 2.2 million in legal and financial services, with Henzy estimating an additional $ 400,000 to $ 500,000 has been spent since September 30.

Henzy said the diocese’s obligation is to preserve its assets by minimizing expenses and argued that the diocese is a small organization with a budget of $ 14.5 million per year. He told Tancredi that to get to this point in the case, the diocese would have had to spend about a quarter to a fifth of what it has on legal fees.

“We haven’t even addressed the complexities of this case yet,” he said. “These numbers are so important that you cannot escape the conclusion that the debtor (the diocese) does not understand what is going on or does not care about what is going on.”

Henzy added that the money to pay the fees can only come from assets that should go to the victims. The assets of the diocese, which he described as “fast-melting ice cubes”, will be determined in the bankruptcy plan.

He also said his analysis of similar cases cited by DeLucia shows that the diocese is spending significantly more than its counterparts on the same type of work.

But Tancredi said he was not ready to end the diocese’s exclusive right to file a plan and start accepting competing plans from other entities, such as the victims committee. Mark Fisher, the lawyer for Catholic Mutual, the diocese’s insurer, told Tancredi that allowing the submission of competing plans at this point would create chaos in the case.

Tancredi has vowed he will “not let victims’ claims be outweighed by professional fees” and said he has the option of withholding fees if he does not see progress in the case.

He extended the diocese’s exclusive period to file a plan until February and will hold a hearing shortly before that to review the progress of the case.

Diocese, victims solve other problems

After the Plaintiff’s Committee opposition to the Diocese’s original plan, DeLucia told Tancredi at the start of the hearing that the Diocese had agreed to extend the time limit for victims to file claims, to increase the scope of the publicity. on the claim process and remove a series of questions from the claim form that victims must submit.

The diocese has now agreed to have a 120-day window from the date a plan announcing the deadline, also known as a deadline, is approved by Tancredi, for victims to file a claim. The diocese had initially suggested a window of 90 days.

The applicants committee also objected to some aspects of the application form that alleged victims must submit, including questions such as whether the victims have ever married, what jobs they have had and whether they have ever been sexually assaulted by someone else. He says these are irrelevant to the claims of victims of sexual assault by diocesan employees and are designed to limit the diocese’s exposure to damage. The committee says the questions also pose “the very real risk of discouraging survivors from submitting claims altogether.”

DeLucia said the diocese had agreed to remove these questions from the form, but said these questions may need to be asked later in the process to help determine the damage for each victim.

The diocese also agreed to extend advertising of the bankruptcy and deadline beyond newspapers in the region to Providence Journal and the Four County Catholic, a diocesan publication, which will appear in the newsletters of 51 diocesan parishes and will be offered in Spanish, as many Hispanic boys attended Mount Saint John.

In July, the diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the face of more than 60 young men filing lawsuits accusing them of being raped and sexually assaulted as boys by Christian Brothers and other members of the staff of Mount Saint John Academy, operated by the diocese in Deep. River from 1990 to 2002. Mount Saint John was a boarding school for troubled boys with a board of directors headed by retired Bishop of Norwich Daniel Reilly. Since then, others whose sexual assault allegations involved not only Mount Saint John but also diocesan churches have filed claims.

The bankruptcy process, which freezes lawsuits against the diocese, will determine the assets of the diocese and how much each victim will receive in damages.

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