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Published: Saturday, 12/4/2010

Dismissal of lawsuit against priest is upheld

A state appeals court, citing statute of limitations laws, Friday upheld the dismissal of a woman's suit against Toledo priest Gerald Robinson claiming the cleric sexually abused her in satanic rituals when she was a child.

The Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals said it was not addressing whether the allegations were true, only that the woman did not file her complaint soon enough.

The woman, who sued anonymously as Survivor Doe, contacted The Blade Friday and said it is unlikely she will pursue her case further in the courts.

"I'm really at peace with the decision. It's God's will," she said. "That's the way the law is and I've got to accept it. But, you know, it's far from over. My story still will be told. It's not a victory for them. People will still find out what really happened."

Friday's ruling was the second favorable decision for Robinson in a little over a month. On Oct. 25, a Lucas County Common Pleas Court judge granted his attorneys' request that the state hand over a batch of police reports from 1980 that had been misfiled and then discovered last year. That ruling pertained to Robinson's ongoing efforts to overturn his 2006 conviction for the 1980 murder of a nun.

Friday's ruling, written by Judge Peter Handwork and signed by Judge Mark Pietrykowski and Judge Keila Cosme, said that Survivor Doe's April, 2005, suit was filed after the statutes had expired.

It was the second time the appeals court has reviewed the case.

In January, 2007, Judge Ruth Ann Franks of Lucas County Common Pleas Court dismissed Survivor Doe's lawsuit on statutes-of-limitations grounds.

Mark Davis, an attorney for Survivor Doe, petitioned the 6th District Court of Appeals, which sent the case back to Common Pleas Court in October, 2007.

Judge Franks dismissed the suit again in January, 2010, going into greater detail on the legal time constraints. She also said Ohio law required Survivor Doe to have used "reasonable diligence" to try to identify her alleged abusers before the statutes expired.

Mr. Davis appealed that ruling in March, which led to Friday's decision.

John Donahue, Robinson's attorney, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Thomas Pletz, an attorney representing the Toledo Catholic Diocese, St. Adalbert Parish and School, and the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, said he was "not surprised" by the decision.

The 27-page ruling shows that the appeals court went to great lengths to examine Survivor Doe's allegations before upholding the dismissal, Mr. Pletz said. "The appeals court very carefully reviewed each claim and each argument that her lawyer made."

The statute of limitations in the Survivor Doe case are more complicated than usual because the Ohio legislature revised the statutes on reporting sexual abuse in 2006. In addition, Survivor Doe, who is now in her 40s, has testified that the abuse was so traumatic that she repressed the memories for decades.

It wasn't until undergoing therapy in 1994 that the memories began to surface, but she didn't know the identities of the alleged hooded cult members for another decade, she said.

It wasn't "until she saw Robinson's eyes on television in 2004," after his arrest on murder charges, that she recognized him as one of the abusers, the appeals court said in recapping her case.

"She testified that this was the final piece that pulled all of her memories together," the court said.

In addition to her allegations that she was abused by "a hooded man with evil eyes" and others in satanic rituals starting when she was 5 years old, Survivor Doe also said she was abused by family members.

She contacted an attorney in 1994 to discuss a possible lawsuit against her uncle, but her therapist advised against it, saying it would impede her recovery. She said Friday that she was "scared to death" of her abusers, who had threatened her life, and her memories were so incomplete that she was unable to pursue a lawsuit or seek police help.

The appeals court backed Judge Franks' opinion that, as early as 1994, Survivor Doe bore a legal responsibility to exercise "due diligence" to try to find her perpetrators' identities.

"We conclude, as a matter of law, that a reasonable person exercising due diligence would have sought outside help of law enforcement or have sued some of the individuals involved in order to seek additional information through the discovery process of litigation despite the threat of harm and how it impacted her recovery," the appeals court said.

Robinson, 72, is serving a 15-years-to-life sentence in Hocking Correctional Facility in southern Ohio for the murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, who was choked nearly to death and stabbed 31 times in the sacristy of a Mercy Hospital where he had been serving as a chaplain.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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