Abuse claims deadline extended

HOLLIDAYSBURG – President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva has given the Altoona attorney representing five alleged sexual abuse victims of Brother Stephen Baker another six months to determine if the cases can be resolved without filing civil lawsuits.

Attorney Richard Serbin has filed notice of seven possible lawsuits in the Baker case, but in early October, the judge notified Serbin that in five cases the 120-day limit had expired for the filing of civil complaints.

She gave Serbin 30 days to file the complaints that list the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Bishop McCort High School, where Baker served as an athletic trainer, St. Bernardine Monastery of Hollidaysburg, the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular and retired Bishop Joseph Adamec as defendants.

On Oct. 11, Bishop Mark Bartchak issued a statement saying, “The parties believe that it would serve everyone’s interest to devote time and resources to resolving the claims as opposed to engaging in formal litigation.”

Serbin then sent a letter to Kopriva, noting that settlement negotiations are underway. He, too, suggested more time be granted to see if the cases can be resolved without the filing of formal complaints.

Kopriva responded on Tuesday by giving the two sides another six months to talk. She said extra time was being granted “in light of the complexities of the issues and the number of claimants.”

Serbin said Wednesday that the cases involve many attorneys and parties, some living outside Pennsylvania.

He said the discussions were being held via conference calls.

The six-month hiatus, he said, will be enough time to determine if the claims can be resolved or if civil complaints are to be filed.

Aside from the five cases mentioned in the judge’s order, Serbin in September filed notice of two additional lawsuits.

Former students at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown are contending Baker sexually abused them in the 1990s when he served as athletic trainer.

Similar charges against Baker were aired in several other states.

Baker, who lived at St. Bernardine Monastery in Hollidaysburg, died Jan. 26. The Blair County coroner ruled the death a suicide.