The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

October 30, 2013

McCort seeks info on alleged victims

EBENSBURG — The board of directors of Bishop McCort Catholic High School is attempting to force a Greensburg attorney to provide more information regarding three former students who allege they were sexually molested by Brother Stephen Baker.

A request filed at the Cambria County Courthouse seeks to have attorney Susan Williams file the detailed lawsuit regarding plaintiffs who to date have been listed only as victims 1, 2 and 3.

The document is asking that Williams be given 20 days to file the complaint outlining details of the allegations made against Baker, a Franciscan friar who worked at Bishop McCort from the early 1990s through 2000.

Williams said she has received a copy of the request.

“I haven’t decided yet what I will do,” she said Wednesday.

Baker, 62, had lived for several years at a monastery outside Hollidaysburg , where he served as the cook. In late January, he was found dead in his bedroom.

The Blair County coroner ruled the death a suicide.

Baker’s death came two weeks after allegations began surfacing by former Bishop McCort students, claiming they had been molested by Baker while he worked at the school as part of the athletic department.

He also served as a religion instructor at the school.

Response to Bishop McCort’s legal action, which was made available to The Tribune-Democrat on Wednesday, came from Matthew Beynon, Bishop McCort’s spokesman.

“For the benefit of the long-term viability of the school and its students, faculty, staff, families and alumni, it is important that the litigation move forward, that all facts are disclosed and that all responsible parties are held accountable,” Beynon wrote in an e-mail.

“Following a lengthy internal investigation, the sole mechanism by which the necessary facts can be brought forth and those responsible be held accountable is through the court system. Today’s filing is not only one further step in that process, but a step in the legal defense of an institution which did not even exist until years after Brother Stephen Baker left the former high school.”

During the time Baker was at the school, it functioned as a part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, which has been named as a defendant in the civil action.

Also named are Bishop McCort High School Inc., Diocese of Youngstown and Third Order Regular Franciscans.

Control of Bishop McCort was turned over to a board of trustees in 2008.

Former high school Principal Ken Salem resigned earlier this year. Sister Donna Marie Leiden, who preceded Salem as principal, was appointed director of education for the diocese in 2006 and remains in her position.

Williams is one of three attorneys who have filed notices of intent to file a lawsuit on behalf of what is believed to be just a small number of the alleged victims who have contacted lawyers.

Her filings came in Cambria County in January, shortly after the allegations were made public.

Two weeks ago, Johnstown attorney Michael Parish filed in Cambria County a notice of intent to sue on behalf of a victim identified as John Doe 1.

Altoona attorney Richard Serbin has filed multiple notices of intent to sue in Blair County. Serbin has filed on behalf of about a dozen alleged victims.

Serbin was not mentioned in this latest action filed by Pittsburgh attorney Kathleen Gallagher on behalf of the Bishop McCort board.

Beynon said he had no answer as to why a similar request had not been filed regarding Serbin.

“It’s just in Cambria,” Beynon said, adding that at this point, it is just Williams being compelled to file.

In September, Blair County President Judge Jolene Kopriva filed an order in an attempt to compel Serbin to file his complaints, but the attorney requested additional time.

Serbin said this week it was his understanding, in speaking to court staff, that he has been given six months to comply.

The initial filing lists defendants and plaintiffs and is a way of stopping the clock on the statute of limitations, a court official said.

Usually, 20 days are given to file the complaint after the initial notice, but that notification often opens the door for an out-of-court settlement and a complaint is not filed.

The request by the Bishop McCort board wanting to see dates, details of the alleged abuse and more information about the victims could result in a request by the victims’ attorney asking the court for additional time.

If there is no reply by the attorney on behalf of the victims, the court has the power to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled, a court official said.

Kathy Mellott covers the Cambria County courthouse for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/ kathymellotttd.

 

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