Attorney: Lawsuits likely coming
The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, the Third Order Regular Franciscans, Bishop McCort Catholic High School and the Diocese of Youngstown will likely be served today with a notification of a coming civil lawsuit on behalf of victims allegedly abused by a Franciscan friar, said Greensburg attorney Susan Williams.
A writ of summons that Williams filed in Cambria County Court last week on behalf of three alleged victims states the nature of the case is negligence. The Blair County and Cambria County sheriff offices mailed notifications on Saturday, Williams said.
Brother Stephen Baker allegedly abused students at McCort in the 1990s and, previously, at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio, through the mid-1980s. He worked at the schools as a teacher and athletic trainer.
Baker committed suicide Saturday morning at St. Bernardine Monastery in Hollidaysburg, where he lived.
In a letter found in his room at the monastery, Baker apologized to the church, Blair County Coroner Patty Ross said. There were also sealed envelopes in the room, one addressed to a family member and another addressed to a priest, Ross said.
She could not say how many sealed envelopes Baker left behind, nor could she verify that any of the letters appeared to be marked for victims.
“I don’t believe so,” she said.
On Tuesday, attorneys representing those who were reportedly abused said they were not aware of any of their clients receiving one of the letters that authorities found in Baker’s room.
Ross said Deputy Coroner Brian Reidy, who responded at the scene, said there was evidence that Baker had been thinking about suicide since the beginning of January.
Attorneys said victims continue to come forward since Baker’s suicide.
“Numerous victims are continuing to contact me from Ohio and Pennsylvania,” Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian said.
Garabedian said adults at both schools “didn’t do their jobs,” in supervising Baker.
“Abuse happened in hallways. Other children saw it. Why didn’t adults see it?” he said.
Bishop McCort has hired a Pittsburgh law firm to conduct an internal investigation of the alleged abuse in an “attempt to help any victims of abuse associated with these allegations receive a level of closure and resolution to this painful chapter of their lives,” according to a statement released last week from the school.
Blair County attorney Richard Serbin is now representing 13 former Bishop McCort students, with one more coming forward since Baker’s suicide.
Williams is the first attorney to send defendants a legal notice. She said she has gained three more clients since Baker’s suicide.
Garabedian is representing more than 30 alleged victims, about half of them former Bishop McCort students. He previously represented 12 alleged victims in Ohio for whom a settlement was reached.
“This was an emotionally complicated situation before Baker passed away. It’s been even more emotionally complicated because of his committing suicide,” Garabedian said.
Victims have mixed emotions, he said.
“Many of them did not want Baker to pass away. They would have liked to hear his explanation for what he did,” Garabedian said
Former John F. Kennedy student and alleged victim Michael Munno has not received a letter and did not expect one, he told the Mirror’s sister paper in Warren, The Tribune Chronicle, on Tuesday.
Munno said last week he was working toward forgiving Baker to help his own healing process. On Saturday, he said he was able to take that step after talking to someone at his church.
”I have forgiven him,” Munno said.
The defendants have two likely options once served with the writ of summons, Williams said – they can reach out and contact her to discuss a resolution or request thorough court that she put together a complaint with specific allegations.
Altoona-Johnstown Diocese spokesman Tony DeGol said he “cannot speak about the case any more because of pending litigation.” He could not confirm whether the diocese has been served a notice.
Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.