Attorneys square off in jurisdictional battle in Archdiocese bankruptcy

Updated: Aug. 20, 2020 at 3:28 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Attorneys for alleged clergy sex abuse victims and the Archdiocese of New Orleans, squared off in federal bankruptcy court Thursday in a battle over who will decide damages.

Attorneys for alleged victims say the church is solvent and does not belong in bankruptcy court, but the Archdiocese says it's not that easy.

Nearly four months after the Archdiocese of New Orleans filed for bankruptcy, attorneys for dozens of alleged victims went before a federal bankruptcy judge asking that the entire matter be removed from her court.

“The plaintiffs want to get in-state court so that they can do discovery and fight over how much money and how many assets the church has and the church doesn’t want that to happen,” said Fox 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti.

Attorneys for alleged victims produced documents showing that the Archdiocese of New Orleans has assets of around $520 million and is solvent. Because of that, they say there’s no justification for a bankruptcy filing which could hurt their clients’ cases.

“In bankruptcy court, it will be the decision of one judge. What the church is afraid of is a jury will feel sympathy which is understandable for these victims. That could give them a much larger award not to mention the discovery that they don’t want to happen,” said Raspanti.

Mark Mintz, the attorney for the archdiocese admitted that in spite of mounting costs the archdiocese is not insolvent and he said that the law doesn’t require insolvency for a bankruptcy action to be filed.

Mintz said that the church could become insolvent in the very near future, and he questioned whether the plaintiffs are trying to force the Archdiocese to sell off church property to pay sex abuse judgments.

“Certainly in bankruptcy court, you can be made to sell assets to pay off debts for sure that’s one of the main things that happens in bankruptcy court,” Raspanti said.

Thursday’s hearing occurred hours after the archdiocese added the name of Brian Highfill, to the list of 63 credibly accused clergy members. Litigation pending in bankruptcy court involving allegations against him could also be impacted by the judge’s ruling. All sides return to court Wednesday evening.

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