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McCort board intends to sue attorney over unfounded claim
By: Maria Miller
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -- There are new developments in the case involving a former Franciscan friar accused of sexually assaulting students at Bishop McCort Catholic High School in the early '90s.
On Friday, the Bishop McCort boardoftrusteesannounced its intent to file suit against a Greensburg attorney representing alleged victims in the case, saying she might be withholding vital information to its investigation.
The board said Attorney Susan Williams is making unsubstantiated and even slanderous claims on her website. The board memberssaid if she really has knowledge of adults at the school, former or current, who knew anything about alleged abuse, they want and need to know in order to protect current students.
The statement on Williams' website is hard to miss. It's one of the first things you see on her home page and reads in part, "our office has been contacted by numerous individuals who were affected by the alleged actions of Brother Stephen Baker and the array of adults at Bishop McCort High School."
The statement has been there since early last year, when she started representing former students. But the Bishop McCort board says her claim is unsubstantiated.
In a statement, the board told 6 News it's the only party to date conducting a substantive investigation and so far has not found evidence of any teacher or administrator having knowledge of the allegations against Baker. The board said it doesn't believe Williams' claim, but said if she does have evidence it needs to know.
Despite numerous attempts, the board said its requests to Williams have gone unanswered, so it's taken a different approach, filing a notice of intention to sue Williams if she can't produce such evidence.
Board President Mark Pasquerilla said in a statement, "On her website, Attorney Williams continues to claim that she knows of individuals at Bishop McCort who may have been aware of Brother Baker's actions. Our Board has a fiduciary responsibility to our students and school families to know any of the facts that may endanger our current students' well-being, but Attorney Williams has refused to turn over this important information to us despite our numerous requests. Her refusal tells us that she is either purposely withholding information that impacts the safety of hundreds of children, or she is defaming our faculty and administration with slanderous allegations.
"From the moment the allegations surfaced, this Board has been committed to uncovering all of the accusations against Brother Baker when he was employed here by the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese. Our actions have certainly backed up our promise to do so. Even though our school has limited resources, we undertook and continue to pursue an exhaustive internal investigation into these allegations. Today's filing is one more step in the process towards uncovering any additional details in this tragedy."
Kathleen Gallagher, the school's attorney added, "These filings are consistent with this Board's previous legal actions to meet its fiduciary responsibility to ensure it has done everything in its power to determine if anyone currently at the school was involved by either direct action, maleficence, or nonfeasance in the tragic actions of Brother Baker.
Attorney Williams' website states that her office "has been contacted by numerous individuals who were affected by the alleged actions of Brother Stephen Baker and the array of adults at Bishop McCort High School."
While we believe these claims are not based in fact, it is imperative that the Board knows the identity of those currently at Bishop McCortshe is referencing if in fact there are parties at the school who played a role in Brother Baker's actions. To make such a claim without substantiation is either withholding information critical to public safety, or casting defamatory accusations toward the school.
Unfortunately, this Board is the only entity that has undertaken an intensive investigation of the allegations involving Brother Baker and, while my client has neither the power nor the resources of local or state law enforcement, this Board will continue to aggressively investigate these allegations to ensure the safety of the school's students and their families."
Attorney Williams told 6 News Friday morning that she hadn't been served any notice and said she didn't have a clue as to what the filing by the board might be about. As for the case itself, she said she's still meeting with her clients and said Bishop McCort is not a part of those conversations.