The headline for the lead article in the local section of today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reads “Archdiocese hopes to settle.” Music to a mediator’s ears. The article quotes Milwaukee Archbishop Listecki and the attorney for 15 plaintiffs who have filed lawsuits in Milwaukee County Circuit Court over the Archdiocese’s handling of clergy sex abuse cases. The Archbishop said he wants to be responsive to victims, and avoid a trial in court and extensive legal fees. The attorney for plaintiffs said the victims want exposure of all offenders, disclosure of all files, and closure. That would be very poetic justice. How nice when both parties publicly state their motivation up front.
A retired Cook County (Illinois) judge will be the mediator. One roadblock immediately appeared when plaintiff’s attorney said that a desire by the Archdiocese to seal the documents would be a deal breaker. It remains to be seen whether the judge will be able to avoid that obstacle to settlement. It is nice to see mediation getting such prominent attention in the media. But will the parties’ publicly expressed intentions be followed in private negotiations and mediation? Or is it all just so much “hopium”? Determining the parties’ true motivations is the beginning of the process, not the end. It has taken the parties 15 years to decide to try mediation in these cases. A quick end is not necessarily in sight merely because they have agreed to mediate, but it is a good first step.