The law firm that once represented the Catholic Diocese of Spokane has filed a motion against the Diocese and incoming Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich, seeking to dismiss Cupich's malpractice claim against them.
Cupich filed a claim earlier this year against the firm, Paine-Hamblen, alleging that they inadequately protected the Spokane Diocese during bankruptcy proceedings, and that they failed to disclose a potential conflict to the court concerning their representation of the previous Bishop, William Skylstad, during litigation concerning sexual abuse claims.
In the latest motion, the firm insists there was no conflict, because they represented Skylstad in his capacity as head of the Diocese, not personally. Indeed, Skylstad himself affirmed that fact in depositions associated with the case, and is quoted as saying Paine-Hamblen had done a "remarkable job" in their representation of the Spokane Church.
The document quotes Father Steve Dublinksi, the former vicar general of the Diocese, as saying that he argued unsuccessfully to Cupich that the suit against his parish's longtime attorneys was ill-advised.
"I walked him through the complaint, showing him where each point, each paragraph was in error," the motion says Dublinski stated in a deposition. "I told Bishop Cupich that it was inaccurate."
Dublinski said Cupich had two responses.
"One is that we are throwing mud at Paine-Hamblen to see if any mud sticks.
And two is that we had to say all these other things to activate their insurance."
The Paine Hamblen motion further states that Cupich brought the suit against the firm, seeking reimbursement of millions of dollars in legal fees, without consulting his own internal counsel, who had worked with Paine-Hamblen successfully for years.
"Amazingly, although he had been the Diocesan Attorney since the late 1970s and was deeply involved throughout the underlying bankruptcy, Mr. Michael Geraghty was never shown a draft of the current Complaint against Paine-Hamblen before they were sued to comment on its accuracy or the quality of defendants’ work," the motion states. "He promptly resigned when he learned that Bishop Cupich had decided to file this action."
In his lawsuit, Cupich criticized the firm for failing to use a strategy, known as a "cramdown", which he believed could have saved the diocese millions of dollars and prevented a new round of sex abuse claims.
But in his deposition, Bishop Skylstad, Cupich's predecessor, said he opposed the idea of the "cramdown", an imposed settlement, and that it was he who had argued for negotiated settlements as the fairest path for the victims of sexual abuse.
“I have always been very strong about consultation and working toward a resolution with agreement of everyone, and rather than looking at a cramdown, which is kind of a forced situation that can leave some hard feelings on whatever side," Skylstad said.
The motion further claims that Cupich and his attorneys waited too long to act, intentionally waiting to seek the action against Paine-Hamblen until after the retirement of the judge who had shepherded the case through years of tediuous bankruptcy litigation.
"The Judge who lived through all of the bankruptcy proceedings, the Judge who entered the Order at issue, the Judge who would know best whether she felt she was misled or whether any...violation was of any significance, was deliberately sidelined," they wrote, arguing that the case should be considered moot because any arguments over fees should have been brought within a year, rather than nearly seven years later as happened with the Cupich claim.
The case is set for trial in February.