The chickens come home to roost…
Earlier today, the Noaker law firm of Minneapolis announced that no settlement had been reached in the case of John Doe 104, meaning that the matter is headed to trial on January 26, 2015, before Judge Van de North.Clients of the Noaker firm were not included in the much-publicized settlement between the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and Jeff Anderson and Associates. [The website for Jeff Anderson and Associates also notes that it has two trials set for that date, involving the priests Jerome Kern and Robert Thurner. Hopefully we will know more about this soon].
The case of Doe 104 involves allegations of abuse against the now-deceased Reverend Thomas Stitts dating back to the 1970s. In 2013, the Archdiocese identified Stitts as having credible accusations against him, although such a declaration was little more than a formality. The first lawsuits involving Stitts were filed in 1993. At that time, the Archdiocese denied knowledge of any previous accusations against Father Stitts, although documents in his personnel file, which I personally reviewed, indicated that they were aware of acts of abuse by at least 1973. I included my concerns about this in my resignation letter to Archbishop Nienstedt in April of 2013.
This case will be interesting for several reasons, one of which is the involvement of Dick Rice, a former Jesuit priest who served in the Twin Cities. Rice is listed among the deponents on the Witness List filed in court this morning. Several other priests will likely be called upon to testify to knowledge that might reflect poorly on their own behavior and/or observance of clerical celibacy, but the situation of Dick Rice has an additional degree of frisson given how actively and aggressively Archbishop Nienstedt and former Vicar General Peter Laird attempted to limit Rice’s activities in the Archdiocese in the years following his laicization.
The plaintiff’s witness list also includes the ‘Custodian of Records for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis’. It will be interesting to see who the Archdiocese produces in response, especially given the fact that Stitts’s personnel file was one that was kept and maintained by the Meier, Kennedy, and Quinn law firm at its Saint Paul offices. When I reviewed the file, at Father Laird’s direction, I actually had to do so in one of the firm’s conference rooms. I do not believe that anyone on my staff outside of Andy Eisenzimmer, who was involved in the earlier lawsuits, had a similar opportunity to review the contents of the file.