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Seasoned lawyers spoke for both sides


All three lawyers in the clergy sex abuse trial in Dallas have previously been involved in high profile cases. Their biographies follow:

WINDLE TURLEY -- Attorney for eight of the plaintiffs, Turley was named one of Dallas' top 12 attorneys from all fields by D Magazine, who christened him "the Crusader," and by the National Law Journal as one of the top 15 attorneys for plaintiffs in aviation cases. Cases his 25-year-old firm has handled include a suit two years ago against Operation Rescue and other antiabortion groups alleged to have driven a gynecologist out of town. The jury awarded the doctor $8.6 million.

Turley's firm was also behind the filings of dozens of damage suits against gun manufacturers. Although those suits got more publicity than jury awards, "we kept the dialogue alive for five years," he said. "Most of our work is in the product defect area," said Turley, who was the lead counsel for plaintiffs when a Delta plane crashed in Dallas in 1985.

Turley said his 13-lawyer office has had three lawyers assigned to the clergy sex abuse case since 1992. He believes the diocese could have settled the case and avoided trial. They say they couldn't settle because we wanted "tens of millions," to settle, he said. "That's not true.

"Hopefully this verdict will send such a shock wave through the institution that it will force more openness in this area," he said. Turley believes the church would be well-served by getting the laity more involved at high levels.

Turley is not a churchgoer, though he once studied for Methodist ministry. He switched to law when he became convinced it was a better catalyst for social change.

Turley will celebrate his 40th wedding anniversary with his childhood sweetheart in December -- "a bit of a spectacular record for a trial lawyer," he said. "She's a good trooper."

The couple has two children -- including a daughter and a son-in-law who are lawyers -- and two grandchildren.

You can read about the trial on his Web site: http://www.wturley.com

SYLVIA DEMAREST -- Demarest, attorney for three plaintiffs, began honing litigation skills as a member of the debate team at the University of Southwest Louisiana in Lafayette.

Her first legal work out of law school at the University of Texas was in civil rights. At age 27, she was named executive director of Dallas Legal Services Foundation, a position she held from 1973 to 1976. During those years she handled litigation resulting in more minority representation in Texas politics. The result was a shift from "at-large" representation to individual districts, she said.

Next Demarest worked in private practice for a year and then joined Windle Turley's firm, where she became manager of product liability and a member of the board. She left after five-and-a-half years to start her own firm, which now has five partners.

Demarest, 52, was reared in southern Louisiana in a Catholic family of farmers, trappers and hunting guides and was the first member of her family to graduate from high school. "I had a true 18th century upbringing," she said. "I remember when we got electricity. When I left for college, we still didn't have indoor plumbing."

Demarest is divorced and has no children. "These are my children," she said of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Dallas diocese. "I felt I was too busy to have children, so I thought I'd better look after other people's children. This has consumed my life for the last four years. I really hope this verdict will bring changes that will benefit kids."

Demarest is no longer a practicing Catholic -- in part because of her experiences in preparing for this trial, she said.

RANDAL MATHIS -- Mathis defended the Dallas diocese in the suit. Licensed in Texas and New York, he is partner and board member of Munsch, Hardt, Kopf, Harr & Dinan, a 65-lawyer firm in Dallas.

Mathis' New York license is related to a widely-publicized case he handled involving the so-called Quedlinburg treasures -- priceless artworks, including a jeweled casket, reliquaries and manuscripts with jewel-encrusted covers (one of them a 9th-century book of gospels) -- hidden by Germans fearing Allied bombing raids in World War II and later allegedly stolen by Joe Tom Meador, a U.S. Army lieutenant stationed in Quedlinburg in 1945. Meador died in 1980.

Mathis represented family members in Texas who became defendants in a civil lawsuit and faced federal charges of conspiring to sell artworks known to be stolen. (The saga is the subject of a 1997 book, Treasure Hunt: A New York Times Reporter tracks the Quedlinburg Hoard by William Honan.)

He has previously faced off with Demarest in cases that were settled out of court and with Turley in court, most notably in firearms liability cases, where Mathis has represented manufacturers or retailers. "They are excellent lawyers," Mathis said. "I have the utmost respect for their legal abilities."

Of his own practice, Mathis said, "For the last seven to eight years, I have made a point to focus on unusual, formidable legal disputes ... typically civil cases with criminal law aspects and often with constitutional angles."

Mathis said his work for the Dallas diocese had provided at least one truly novel experience: a courtroom squeeze. After the trial, a juror who had just handed Mathis a huge defeat thanked him with a big hug, saying he had been the "favorite lawyer." Unfortunately, the juror said, Mathis "just didn't have any defense."

Mathis disagrees. He expects to win on appeal. "I tend to get very, very involved with cases," he said. "The result was extremely disappointing to me."

Mathis, 43, is an Episcopalian. He has been married for 10 years to Rebecca Mathis, a lawyer in Dallas. The couple has no children.

National Catholic Reporter, August 15, 1997