Asheville, NC-- The chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court has appointed a special judge to oversee a Buncombe County lawsuit alleging the Catholic church's practice of protecting sexual predators allowed a local parish music minister to repeatedly molest a girl.
North Carolina law allows the designation of certain cases as "exceptional" when they involve especially complex legal and factual issues better handled by a single judge.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Parker approved a joint motion filed by the plaintiffs and defendants in the lawsuit to invoke the special status. Last month, she appointed Burke County Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin.
The lawsuit was filed in July 2010 by the parents of a girl who was sexually assaulted by Paul Lawrence Berrell, former music minister at St. Eugene Catholic Church in Asheville. It names Berrell, former Pastor John Schneider and the Diocese of Charlotte, which oversees parishes in Western North Carolina.
The Catholic church's pervasive pattern of hiring and protecting known sexual predators allowed Berrell to molest the child, according to the suit filed in Buncombe County Superior Court. In court papers the diocese denied the allegations.
Asheville attorney Brad Searson, who represents the plaintiffs, said having a single judge oversee the case will be more efficient than rotating it among multiple judges.
"All the lawyers were able to agree that having one judge develop an understanding of the context of the case, the detailed facts and the applicable law, and then help decide the disputes among the parties and ultimately conduct the trial, would be efficient and fair to everyone," he said.
According to the motion, the case "involves sensitive issues related to the sexual abuse of a minor child." The document states there likely will be expert testimony on issues such as the nature and extent of the plaintiffs' psychological and economic damages, appropriate procedures for vetting potential employees likely to be put in positions of trust with children, and the organizational structure and operation of the Diocese of Charlotte.
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