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Three in Kos case settle for $7.5 million

Three of 11 former altar boys who faced off against the Dallas diocese in a sex abuse trial last summer have agreed to a settlement of $7.5 million, a fraction of what they were awarded by a jury.

The jury had awarded 11 plaintiffs a historic total of $119.6 million, or an average of $10.8 million each, concurring that the diocese had been guilty of gross negligence, fraud and reckless disregard for the safety of others during years of sexual abuse by then-priest Rudolph “Rudy” Kos.

Later this month, Kos, 52, will stand trial for eight criminal sex-abuse charges involving four young men who told police that Kos molested them more than 1,350 times when they were children. Kos has pleaded not guilty.

As part of the $7.5 million settlement in the civil case, one of the plaintiffs, Robert Hultz, 26, will have a private meeting with Dallas Bishop Charles Grahmann. Hultz, who has been undergoing intensive therapy since the trial ended, has long wished for such a meeting, saying it would help bring closure to a painful chapter of his life.

The jury had awarded Hultz $13.2 million for his injuries. The distribution of funds under the settlement, reached March 4 in court-ordered mediation, remains undisclosed.

Settlement funds will be paid by the diocese ($3.1 million) and two insurance companies, Lloyds of London and Interstate Fire & Casualty Co. ($4.4 million). The diocese, which has paid an estimated $3 million in legal fees so far, plans to fund its share of the settlement by selling undeveloped land.

Sylvia Demarest, lawyer for the three plaintiffs who settled, said she considered the agreement to be in the best interests of her clients, given the risks of continued litigation. “I think this was the best deal we could get under the circumstances,” she said. Risks include the likelihood of appeal. A higher court could substantially reduce the amount of the judgment or order a new trial, she said. Further, the diocese has threatened expanded litigation and bankruptcy if efforts are made to seize parish properties. Officials contend that parish and school properties are not owned by the diocese but held in trust for parishioners.

“The diocese could easily end up in bankruptcy in this case,” Demarest said. “We don’t feel that’s in the best interest of our clients.” She noted that diocesan costs so far had already exceeded costs of a proposed pretrial settlement. “We would have been willing to settle for much less than a million dollars per plaintiff,” she said.

Eight other plaintiffs represented by lawyer Windle Turley are still in negotiations that, if unsuccessful, could still result in that portion of the case being appealed.

Demarest said her clients feel the settlement will give the plaintiffs some financial security and would allow them to get on with their lives. Her clients say the primary legal targets were Kos and the diocesan administrators who failed to act to stop his abusive behavior, not ordinary parishioners. Her clients, she said, “did not want to become adversaries with the parishioners and school children of this city. They did not want to be cast as enemies.”

Tony Miglini, 26, one of the three plaintiffs involved in the settlement, said he didn’t want the diocese to be crippled by the payouts. “We feel we got our point across,” he told The Dallas Morning News. “The church does a lot of good things. I think they needed to hear our message loud and clear, and I think they did.”

Grahmann returned from an international ecumenical meeting in Rome for the final round of mediation with Demarest’s clients. In a written statement, he thanked her for helping “to end this long period of sadness.” He said he hoped the other eight cases would soon be resolved. “During this Lenten season we are struggling to have healing and justice for the victims of abuse,” he said. “We have asked all Catholics to pray for victims and to seek ways to prevent abuse occurring anywhere in our community.”

Testimony in the criminal trial is scheduled to begin the week of March 23.

National Catholic Reporter, March 20, 1998