Sunday, November 17, 2002

In Miami, squabbles over the statute of limitations

Lawyers for the Archdiocese of Miami and a handful of priests accused of sexually molesting boys are trying to have their lawsuits dismissed, claiming the statute of limitations bars possible victims from pursuing decades-old allegations.

Under Florida law, the time frame for filing civil cases claiming negligence and sexual battery ranges from four to seven years, depending on the age of the alleged victims.

The defense teams' strategy, legal experts say, is clear-cut: Get the suits dismissed to prevent jurors from ever hearing allegations of priests preying on children -- including potentially damning claims of official coverups that could lead to multimillion dollar judgments.

As part of that strategy, archdiocese attorneys are seeking financial sanctions against plaintiffs' lawyers, saying their clients' claims are so baseless that they never should have filed them.

That kind of tactic normally comes later in the court dispute. Then the defense attorneys demand the losers pay their legal fees and costs.

''It's hardball, as usual; they haven't changed a bit,'' said attorney Ronald Weil, who has fought the Miami archdiocese in numerous molestation cases.

Weil and other plaintiffs' attorneys counter that there are laws protecting child-abuse victims against the statute of limitations defense, especially if the archdiocese committed fraud by keeping certain priests' abusive history a secret.

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