A former U.S. attorney from Seattle will be hired to scrutinize and put a price on about 140 sex-abuse claims in the Catholic Diocese of Spokane bankruptcy.
In court records filed Friday, attorneys working on the case unanimously agreed that Kate Pflaumer should be appointed the “tort claims reviewer.” She will be given broad power to establish the truthfulness of sex-abuse claims and how much individual claimants should be paid.
Her hiring will fulfill part of a $48 million settlement agreement announced Jan. 4 that’s expected to end the long-running bankruptcy case this spring.
Pflaumer was a Clinton appointee and retired after the election of President Bush. Her eight-year term as Washington’s top federal prosecutor ended in 2001 after the successful, nine-count conviction of Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian who smuggled bomb-making materials into Port Angeles, Wash.
During her tenure, she chaired the victims’ rights committee assembled by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.
For six years she has worked as a legal consultant, according to her resume. She is the civilian auditor of internal investigations conducted by the Seattle Police Department, and she served as a judge’s assistant during the death-penalty prosecution of Green River serial killer Gary Ridgway.
Her challenge in Spokane will be to dissect the sex-abuse claims that have roiled the local Catholic Church.
A total of 192 claims have been filed against the diocese, according to attorneys in the case. Of those, 15 were thrown out, one will be handled as a future claim – although it’s not clear why – and 36 others have been settled.
That leaves 140 sex-abuse claims that will be put into the hands of Pflaumer. She was unavailable for comment Friday.
According to a bankruptcy case settlement filed Jan. 4, some of those claims should be settled quickly for a flat $15,000. Another group of claims can be settled for $45,000 if the victims can credibly show Pflaumer they were abused by a priest or other person associated with the diocese.
Most victims, however, will choose to present their claims to Pflaumer for a formal review, which includes sworn statements and evidence. Once she determines the scope of a victim’s abuse, she will use a court-approved matrix to help her settle on a dollar amount that could range from less than $20,000 to more than $1 million.
If the victim or diocese disagrees with her finding and award, they can ask her for reconsideration, but there will be no opportunity for an independent appeal.
The fourth choice for victims is to take their case to trial. Any monetary award from trial, however, has to come out of the $48 million settlement, raising the possibility that any large verdicts could be reduced by the bankruptcy court.
Those include attorneys’ fees – $5.2 million accrued as of Nov. 30 – and other costs.
Pflaumer has asked to be paid $300 an hour. She plans to hire a legal assistant and is considering renting office space in the US Bank Building in downtown Spokane.
The office space is owned by Les Weatherhead, an attorney who represents Cowles Co., which publishes The Spokesman-Review.
Cowles Co. is purchasing for $2.05 million the Catholic Pastoral Center, the diocese’s headquarters building on West Riverside, which is also called the Chancery.
The Spokesman-Review has intervened in the bankruptcy case challenging the sealing of records pertaining to sex-abuse accusations against priests and other agents of the diocese.