Mediation process respects rights of all those involved

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Sunday, September 25, 2011

Media reports at the end of August maintained that a new process was created requiring the Archdiocese of Chicago to release files related to settled cases of clergy sexual misconduct. “No new process was created. Instead, an existing process was clarified regarding the production of documents related to cases in mediation with attorney Jeffrey Anderson,” said John O’Malley, director of legal services for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The media reports followed an Aug. 30 press conference at which Anderson announced settlement of 12 cases arising from misconduct that occurred many years ago. The settlements were reached in August. In addition, Anderson described a new process to require the archdiocese to release files related to cases of clergy sexual misconduct.

Anderson represents a number of people who have brought forward claims to the archdiocese and a mediation process was developed in 2006 specifically for his cases, O’Malley said.

“If an allegation is substantiated, we work very hard to resolve it without putting the people involved through the rigors of litigation,” said O’Malley. “Most of the lawyers we deal with share that concern and we work together to achieve resolutions that are just and compassionate. Mr. Anderson shares our concern and because of that we have developed a mediation process with him that allows us hopefully to resolve those cases in that manner.”

The mediation process replaces the adversarial and expensive process of civil litigation. At a trial, relevant documents introduced into evidence become a matter of public record. If a case goes through mediation, documents can still be released once the case is settled but with attention to important privacy issues, O’Malley explained.

“Some advocates suggest that all documents related to priest misconduct be disclosed and they claim it is a ‘simple matter.’ Those of us involved in these cases on both sides recognize that is not the case,” O’Malley said.

“There are legal restrictions against publishing mental health and medical information. In addition there are privacy interests. For example, third parties may be mentioned in the file but are not involved in any abuse. Most importantly, victims’ names and stories should not be published without their consent,” said O’Malley.

“We are concerned about the rights of people in this process,” he said, adding that there is also a concern that victims would hesitate in coming forward if they thought their personal information would be made public in the future.

In cases relating to his clients, Anderson will be part of the process that determines which documents are made public and which are kept confidential.

It is the goal that all of these details be worked out in the mediation process. The lawyers first attempt to reach an agreement. If they are unable to do so, the issues go before Thomas Gibbons, a mediator, labor arbitrator and dean of the School of Continuing Studies at Northwestern University.

If questions can’t be resolved with the mediator, retired Judge Stuart A. Nudelman makes the determinations.

“The process recognizes and respects that there are not simple solutions to these difficult questions,” O’Malley said.