A1 A1
Obituaries and death notices for Dec. 3, 2019

Jerry B. Callahan

Patrick F. “Hoppy” Cassidy

Mavis L. Davidson

Sandra S. Eichelt

Dorothy M. Gadow

Lilly G. Gosda

Helga M. Lindner-Stoppel

Doris K. Mesenbrink

Marilyn Jane Taylor

Randy A. Wuthrich

New wave of abuse suits could hit church like never before


A wave of new laws in 15 states that allow people to make claims of sexual abuse going back decades could bring a deluge of lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Church that could surpass anything seen so far in its clergy abuse crisis.

Associated Press reporting found it could result in thousands of new cases against the church and more than $4 billion in payouts.

It’s a financial reckoning playing out in such populous Catholic strongholds as New York, California and New Jersey, among the eight states that go the furthest with “lookback windows” that allow sex abuse claims no matter how old.

That has lawyers fighting for clients with TV ads and billboards asking, “Were you abused by the church?” And Catholic dioceses are considering bankruptcy, victim compensation funds and even tapping valuable real estate to stay afloat.

“It’s like a whole new beginning for me,” said 71-year-old Nancy Holling-Lonnecker of San Diego, who plans to take advantage of an upcoming three-year window for such suits in California. Her claim dates back to the 1950s, when she says a priest repeatedly raped her in a confession booth beginning when she was 7 years old.

“The survivors coming forward now have been holding on to this horrific experience all of their lives,” she said. “They bottled up those emotions all of these years because there was no place to take it.”

AP interviews with more than a dozen lawyers and clergy abuse watchdog groups offered a wide range of estimates, but many said they expected at least 5,000 new cases against the church in New York, New Jersey and California alone, resulting in potential payouts that could surpass the $4 billion paid out since the clergy sex abuse first came to light in the 1980s.

Some lawyers believe payouts could be heavily influenced by the recent reawakening over sexual abuse fueled by the #MeToo movement, the public shaming of accused celebrities and the explosive Pennsylvania grand jury report last year that found 300 priests abused more than 1,000 children in that state over seven decades.

“The general public is more disgusted than ever with the clergy sex abuse and the cover-up, and that will be reflected in jury verdicts,” said Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston attorney who was at the center of numerous lawsuits against the church in that city and was portrayed in the movie “Spotlight.”

Since the 15 states changed their laws within the past two years, the onslaught of lawsuits is coming in waves.

This summer, when New York state opened its one-year window allowing sexual abuse suits with no statute of limitations, more than 400 cases against the church and other institutions were filed on the first day alone. That number is now up to more than 1,000, with most against the church. New Jersey’s two-year window opens this week, and California’s three-year window begins in the new year with a new provision that allows plaintiffs to collect triple damages if a demonstrable cover-up can be shown. Arizona, Montana and Vermont opened ones earlier this year.

Already, longtime clergy abuse lawyer Michael Pfau in Seattle says he has signed up about 800 clients in New York, New Jersey and California. Boston’s Garabedian says he expects to file 225 in New York, plus at least 200 in a half-dozen other states. Another veteran abuse litigator, James Marsh, says he has collected more than 200 clients in New York alone.

“A trickle becomes a stream becomes a flood,” Marsh said.

Church leaders who had for years lobbied statehouses against loosening statute-of-limitations laws say this is exactly the kind of feeding frenzy they were worried about. Some have bemoaned the difficulty of trying to counter accusations of abuse that happened so long ago that most witnesses have scattered and many of the accused priests are long dead.

“Dead people can’t defend themselves,” said Mark Chopko, former general counsel to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The church’s response weighs heavily on compensation funds and bankruptcy.

New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan set up the first fund in 2016, pitching it as a way to compensate victims without walloping the church and forcing it to cut programs. It has since paid more than $67 million to 338 alleged victims, an average $200,000 each.

The idea has caught on in other states. All five dioceses in New Jersey and three in Colorado opened one, as did seven dioceses in Pennsylvania and six in California, including the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest in the U.S.

More drastic and increasingly more common is the bankruptcy option. Less than a month after New York’s one-year lookback window took effect, the upstate Diocese of Rochester filed for bankruptcy, the 20th diocese or religious order in the country to do so.

When a diocese files for bankruptcy, lawsuits by alleged abuse survivors are suspended and payments to them and others owed money are frozen while a federal judge decides how much to pay everyone and still leave enough for the diocese to operate. It’s orderly and victims avoid costly and lengthy court cases, but they often get less than they would if they were successful in a trial.

Bankruptcy can also leave abuse survivors with a sense of justice denied because the church never has to face discovery by plaintiff lawyers and isn’t forced to hand over documents, possibly implicating higher-ups who hid the abuse.

For many of his clients, New York lawyer Adam Slater said, that step is crucial.

“They want to see how the church allowed them to be abused, how they ruined their lives,” he said. “It’s a different process in bankruptcy—you don’t get discovery and you don’t get it in compensation programs. The truth never comes to light.”

Milwaukee Street bridge could partially reopen this week


State Department of Transportation officials didn’t make it official Monday, but it appears the Milwaukee Street bridge could open this week to at least one lane of traffic.

Support local journalism

Help support reporting that brings important issues to light. By subscribing, you can help us continue to serve the area and keep local journalism thriving. Local news matters.

Subscribe today for as little as $9.95/month.

Maybe even two lanes.

On Monday, crews swept the areas where the east and west sides of Milwaukee Street tie into the rebuilt bridge. In the morning, the bridge contractor set out concrete barriers along the south side of the bridge, where crews still must build the side railings and façade.

Paul Woodard, city public works director, said he believes the DOT might reopen one—if not both lanes—on the bridge this week.

Woodard said the city has pressed the DOT and bridge contractor Zenith Tech for weeks to open at least one lane, regardless of whether the bridge project is completely finished or not. Even one open lane would allow downtown traffic to resume a somewhat normal pattern after a year of detours.

As of Monday evening, the bridge was still barricaded and closed to traffic, and the DOT did not respond to inquiries about the pace of work or plans to open the bridge. But for the first time in 13 months, there was a clear view looking west down Milwaukee Street across the Rock River. Despite high water that has resulted in five months of delays, the bridge’s driving surface and the streets that tie into the bridge are completed.

Zenith Tech still must finish the railing and façade—work that requires access to the underside of the bridge from barges in the river. But continued snow and rainfall have left the river swollen and near flood stage for weeks, and crews have been unable to tackle that work.

Angela Major 

The sidewalk and side railings on the south side of the Milwaukee Street bridge remain unfinished Monday in downtown Janesville. The sidewalk on the other side is open to pedestrians, and the bridge could reopen to traffic this week.

Woodard said the city initially sought to have a single lane open on the north side of the bridge while contractors worked from the water to finish the south façade and railing.

But he said city officials’ thinking has shifted recently because the river has remained high—and recently has risen a few inches.

“The city’s now been advocating that we get it open to two lanes,” he said. “That’s given the fact that three weeks ago, it looked like the river was going to go down, but now it looks like the river will stay high for a while.

“So the city’s been advocating with the DOT and the contractor that they put Jersey barriers on the south side, stripe it (the bridge surface) and open up both lanes,” he said.

Woodard said concrete tying East and West Milwaukee Street to the bridge was poured last week and now is cured.

Pedestrians already are using the new wider sidewalk on the north side of the bridge to cross the river.

Woodard said Monday that he hadn’t gotten word on what the DOT’s or the contractor’s plans were, but he said it appears that at least one lane should be open this week.

If the DOT opts to open both lanes, though, it probably will be temporary.

Eventually, the river levels will drop, and the contractor will have to close the south lane until work on that side is finished.

Angela Major 

Workers use a shovel to remove a manhole cover on the Milwaukee Street bridge Monday in Janesville. The bridge could reopen at least partially this week, a city official said.

Angela Major 

Barricades remain on the new Milwaukee Street bridge in downtown Janesville on Monday, but Public Works Director Paul Woodard believes the state Department of Transportation might reopen one lane to traffic this week.

top story
City to begin vetting GM site redevelopment plans


The city of Janesville now has a basic roadmap of how owners of the former General Motors site might redevelop the property.

Support local journalism

Help support reporting that brings important issues to light. By subscribing, you can help us continue to serve the area and keep local journalism thriving. Local news matters.

Subscribe today for as little as $9.95/month.

It might take weeks or months of fine tuning in the hands of city planners and the city’s plan commission, but Commercial Development Company has given the city a preliminary plan of how redevelopment might roll forward on the 260-acre site it is now calling Centennial Industrial Park.

Commercial Development Company, a St. Louis firm that bought the site in 2018, has mostly cleared nearly 5 million square feet of former auto plant buildings from the site. In tandem with ongoing environmental cleanup of the site, Commercial Development is seeking clearance from the city’s plan commission for a planned-unit development proposal that the company and city staff say would create a “flexible” strategy for future redevelopment.

The plan commission Monday set a Dec. 16 public hearing to review the planned-unit proposal.

In a 30-page report, Commercial Development shows initial plans to divide the site—the largest industrial redevelopment site in the city’s history—into 12 parcels ranging in size from 7 to 45 acres.

Most of the parcels, according to the report, would be earmarked for development of multiple midsize industrial facilities.

But the plan, as Commercial Development earlier had suggested might be the case, designates some land on the north and south end of the former GM site—about 35 acres in total—as “mixed use.” It is a sort of combination zoning that could allow light or specialized industry, convenience stores, restaurants, office space or, potentially, new housing.

Commercial Development’s report has been in the works for about a year, and it was recently submitted to city planners under a provision in the city’s zoning code that requires developers or property owners to provide preliminary plans for redevelopment sites.

Commercial Development’s strategy would operate under a dual process: First, the city’s plan commission would OK a sweeping, planned-unit development that would lay out a framework for future redevelopment of the GM site.

The plan commission first requires a public hearing on Commercial Development’s plan. From there, the commission must approve any changes it might require before the plan can be approved and put in place.

Later, city staff, the plan commission and the city council would review any individual redevelopment projects at the GM site under guidelines laid out in the planned-unit development.

The city in 2017 blanketed the entire GM site as an overlay district, a protective zoning designation that the city said in a memo would allow redevelopment in “a manner consistent with the needs and best interests of the community.”

Under the city’s rules, redevelopment of overlay districts requires an owner or developer to present the plan as a planned-unit development.

Planned-unit developments, sometimes used for development of large tracts of housing, allow municipalities the discretion to override certain zoning codes for specific projects without having to rewrite entire city ordinances.

In this case, the city’s baseline rules for redevelopment of the former GM site would gear the site for projects that are “less intensive” than typically would be allowed under zoning that has governed the GM site since its use as an auto plant, according to Commercial Development’s report.

Commercial Development’s plan is to gear redevelopment toward use of existing utilities, infrastructure and large-scale railroad infrastructure on the site that one if not two private railroad companies plan to further enhance.

In the report, Commercial Development suggested some types of industrial redevelopment for which the site would be best suited, including light manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, material testing, research and development, chemical manufacturing, “controlled outdoor storage,” and railroad freight terminals.

In the new report, Commercial Development indicates it wants to reuse existing concrete slabs that cover about one-third of the 115-acre site. The slabs are 8 inches thick over top of a network of deep columns. Commercial Development said the slabs could be reused with minimum excavation and would “provide a solid footing for new development.”

According to a September letter from Commercial Development to the city, Commercial Development is in the midst of forming an environmental remediation plan with the state Department of Natural Resources for the main GM plant site.

Part of that plan would be to determine whether Commercial Development can or should leave foundations for future use and as an environmental control to deal with any contamination in the soil.

In the report unveiled last week, Commercial Development said its goal is to earn DNR environmental clearance of the site by the end of 2020.

Commercial Development lists itself as a “responsible party” for any necessary environmental remediation at the site, but the report also indicates “subsequent owners” of the site would be considered responsible for remaining cleanup.

The report also designates General Motors, which operated the site for nearly 100 years, as the “identified causer” of environmental contamination at the site. The report indicates GM remains a “responsible party” at the site.

According to a 2017 Gazette analysis, Commercial Development has had a history of selling off some post-industrial properties the company has bought and cleaned up, leaving the properties for others to redevelop.

City Manager Mark Freitag told The Gazette in November it’s possible Commercial Development could take an active role in redeveloping the former GM property, but it’s also possible Commercial Development could sell some or all of the site to another owner or owners who might later redevelop it.