Oregon paid a little more than $1 million to the law firm it hired the defend the state in lawsuits brought by 14 men who claimed that a priest sexually abused them at the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn during the 1970s.
The state hired the firm of Greener, Banducci and Shoemaker, which is based in Boise, Idaho. The payments totaled $1.04 million from October 2005 through May 2007, according to documents obtained by the Statesman Journal newspaper through a public records request with the state Department of Justice.
William Tharp, a former Oregon assistant attorney general who left the Department of Justice in 2005 to join the Boise firm, led the state-defense team. Tharp is one of eight lawyers at the Idaho firm hired by the Department of Justice to work on civil suits filed against the Rev. Michael Sprauer and the state, according to a review of state contracts with the firm.
State officials said it made sense to contract with the Boise firm because of Tharp’s prior knowledge of the Sprauer lawsuits.
“There are times when we find that outside expertise is more important than bringing up to speed a new attorney general in the department,” said Stephanie Soden, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice.
The payout is part of a larger state-paid legal bill connected to Sprauer litigation. State attorneys have racked up costs and expenses totaling $485,060. And the state has paid $372,348 in legal fees to Thomas Cooney Sr., an attorney representing Sprauer. The cumulative legal tab comes to almost $1.9 million.
Sprauer’s accusers recently reached an out-of-court settlement, with the state agreeing to pay $1.05 million to the men who sued Sprauer.
Soden said the state’s insurer during the 1970s is expected to cover the legal bills and settlement stemming from Sprauer litigation.
“We plan to have all the costs reimbursed by the insurer from that time period,” Soden said. “We expect, in the end, for all of the costs to be covered.”
The litigation started when Sprauer was named in a series of lawsuits filed on behalf of 15 men alleging the priest abused them when they were inmates at MacLaren. One plaintiff died in December 2004.
In May, Randy Sloan, 49, of Aumsville; Robert Paul Jr., 49, of Salem; and Norman Klettke Jr., 44, of Portland became the first plaintiffs to take to trial their accusations against Sprauer. The civil suit was the first Roman Catholic priest sex-abuse case to go to trial in Oregon.
A Multnomah County jury concluded that Sprauer sexually abused Sloan and Paul and awarded them nearly $1.4 million in damages. The jury cleared the priest of sexually abusing Klettke.
When the $1.05 million settlement with the state is finalized, it will supersede the jury award. Because of legal limits on state liability, Sloan and Paul were unlikely to receive anywhere near the amount of jury-awarded compensation, said Daniel Gatti, the lawyer for the plaintiffs.