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Judge splits up Morning Star lawsuits

Wed., June 3, 2009

Boys ranch could face 18 abuse trials next year

Morning Star Boys’ Ranch may have to defend itself in 18 separate physical- and sex-abuse trials next year after a judge split lawsuits into individual cases.

The ranch wanted the suits to be severed, according to court records. Morning Star and its supporters vehemently reject the allegations of molestations and beatings, saying that felons and other troubled men who filed the lawsuits are trying to squeeze money from the Catholic-based nonprofit organization.

The lawsuits were filed by former wards of the ranch. The suits name the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, the ranch’s former director, defrocked priest and admitted pedophile Patrick O’Donnell, and several counselors.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Michael Price ordered the cases severed in April.

Tim Kosnoff, a Seattle attorney representing most of the men suing Morning Star, said he intended to bring his strongest cases to trial first. He said there have not been serious settlement talks.

Morning Star attorney James King was unavailable for comment Tuesday afternoon.

In a separate development, Morning Star was sued last week by Michael P. Smith, who says the ranch released him for day trips into the custody of a convicted child molester when he was 11.

Smith also has filed a $31 million lawsuit against the state of Washington and Spokane County for placing him in the foster care of Gerald “Jerry” Allen.

Smith says he was sexually brutalized for years by Allen, who is deceased.

Smith’s younger brother, Matthew Smith, also recently filed a $21 million suit against the state and county. He alleges that Allen molested him, too, when he visited his brother’s foster home.

William Gilbert, the attorney for Michael Smith, said he expects the brothers’ cases will be merged because their accusations are related.

“In this case we believe the state was most culpable,” he said.

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