APPLETON, Wis. (AP) – The Roman Catholic Diocese of Green Bay has requested a new civil fraud lawsuit trial after a jury awarded $700,000 to two victims of clergy sex abuse, claiming one juror in the case was biased.
Todd and Troy Merryfield alleged that the diocese falsely misrepresented the safety of former priest John Feeney when it installed him as pastor at Freedom’s St. Nicholas Church in the 1970s. The Associated Press generally doesn’t reveal the name of sex-abuse victims, but the Merryfield brothers have previously granted AP permission to use their names.
Feeney was convicted in 2004 for the sexual assaults and has already served his prison sentence.
Jurors deliberated for about five hours last month before awarding $475,000 to Troy Merryfield and $225,000 to Todd Merryfield.
Attorneys for the diocese responded with a motion for a new trial, citing a juror’s “incorrect responses” on a pre-trial questionnaire and “lack of candor” during and after the jury selection process.
The juror’s answers “demonstrate (the juror’s) obvious bias and deprived the diocese of its constitutional right to an impartial jury,” the diocese’s motion said.
John Peterson, the attorney for Troy Merryfield, said the motion shows that the diocese is “running out of options.”
The juror in question declined comment to The Post-Crescent of Appleton.
Questions arose after a second juror told the court that the first juror had made some questionable comments in the parking lot after the trial. Peterson said the first juror mentioned that a family member had attended St. Therese School in Appleton during the time Feeney was assigned to the church, and wondered about that relative’s experiences with the pastor.
“She certainly didn’t think she was biased,” Peterson said.
However, the diocese said the information raises questions about the juror’s impartiality.
“The newly disclosed information regarding (the juror) requires the court to order a new trial in the interest of justice,” according to the motion.
A judge on Wednesday scheduled a June 26 hearing on the motion.
The Merryfields alleged that the diocese knew Feeney had a history of child sex abuse when it moved him to the Freedom parish. The diocese has said it had no knowledge of abuse.
Several priests testified about allegations of inappropriate behavior by Feeney – that he swam naked with boys and showered with them after basketball games – long before he assaulted the Merryfields in 1978.
Information from: The Post-Crescent, http://www.postcrescent.com