Brother Baker case conference to focus on settlement deals

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva has offered her services to try to mediate seven civil cases in which area residents claim they were sexually abused by a Franciscan friar who served as an athletic trainer at Bishop McCort High School, Johnstown, in the 1990s.

The judge on Monday issued an order in which she stated a status conference scheduled for Wednesday has been “converted” to a settlement conference.

Kopriva said that some attorneys indicated they might not be able to be present Wednesday, which means the settlement conference would be continued until next week. The cases involve alleged sexual abuse against minors by Brother Stephen Baker.

Baker committed suicide in January 2013.

The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown is involved in the discussion as is Baker’s order, the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular, located in Hollidaysburg.

Also involved in the discussions are representatives of the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio, where Baker resided before coming to central Pennsylvania.

Discussions have been ongoing for many months.

The local diocese said in June it would sell Altoona-Johnstown Bishop Mark L. Bartchak’s home in Frankstown Township in an effort to raise money to help pay settlements in some of the cases.

In Blair County, Altoona attorney Richard M. Serbin has filed notices of seven lawsuits.

Each of the alleged victims is known as John Doe and a number.

Kopriva issued her order Monday under the heading of “John Doe 79,” the number assigned to that particular case. If settlements can’t be reached, the attorneys for the alleged victims will be free to file civil complaints, kicking off what could be multi-year legal cases.

Asked about the judge’s order on Monday, Serbin only said that discussions are ongoing.

“The court,” Serbin said referring to Judge Kopriva, “has offered its assistance.”

Kopriva said that her goal is to keep the cases moving through the court system, and she said she would be available to help.

She said a federal judge has been helping to mediate the cases and her efforts would be “supplementing” what the federal judge has been doing.

Her order stated that plaintiff’s attorneys and their clients are welcome to attend the meetings on Wednesday.

Kopriva said the various sides are “working hard” to resolve the cases.

If issues aren’t resolved, the judge will hold her next status conference on the case with attorneys for both sides on Sept. 25.