It is December of 1992 and T. Paul Tremont, a veteran trial attorney for over 35 years, and his law partner Cindy Robinson are meeting with new clients late one evening. It is a lengthy meeting and is followed by an intense investigation. The claims being made by the clients are startling and controversial. This meeting marks the beginning of Tremont & Sheldon's representation of victims of childhood sexual abuse. It is a fight that has spanned well over a decade and uniformly involves a betrayal of the worst kind: a child is horribly deceived and forever harmed by a person in a position of power, authority, and trust.
At first, most of the survivors of sex abuse whom Tremont & Sheldon represent were molested as children by their local parish priest. Tremont & Sheldon now investigates and represents individuals who were molested by biological parents, stepparents, teachers, coaches, and family friends. Attorney Douglas Mahoney becomes part of the team of Tremont & Sheldon lawyers fighting for these victims, and Attorney Jason Tremont also joins the team. In a small firm of six attorneys, more than half of the attorneys have always been involved in this cause.
In 1993, Tremont & Sheldon brings one of the first Connecticut clergy abuse lawsuits. Thereafter, additional lawsuits are filed on behalf of other survivors. All of the victims come from families with strong ties with the Church. At that time, T. Paul Tremont states, "The astounding fact is that what appeared to be an isolated complaint, now appears to be a sexual epidemic which has run the gauntlet of the Catholic Dioceses from Greenwich through Shelton and from Norwalk through New Canaan which is being covered up by Bishop Curtis, Bishop Egan and other leaders of the Church." Sadly, Attorney T. Paul Tremont passes away during his crusade against clergy sexual abuse.
To date, Tremont & Sheldon has represented well over 100 victims of childhood sexual abuse against area dioceses. In August 1999, a claim that occurs on Bishop Egan's watch is brought against the Diocese of Bridgeport and Bishop Egan, involving the offenses of another priest. Cardinal Egan is deposed twice in connection with these claims. In March of 2001, Tremont & Sheldon reaches a confidential global settlement with the Diocese of Bridgeport and its predecessor bishop, Cardinal Edward Egan. In October of 2003, Tremont & Sheldon reaches a 21 million dollar global settlement with the Diocese of Bridgeport on behalf of another group of victims. In October of 2005, Tremont & Sheldon reaches its first global settlement with the Archdiocese of Hartford. This is a 22 million dollar settlement where Tremont & Sheldon represents 15 of the 43 victims. To date, Tremont & Sheldon has collected approximately 50 million dollars on behalf of victims of child molestation.
In its initial response, the Diocese of Bridgeport files gag orders in court preventing public access to information relating to the sexual abuses by its priests. Attorneys for the Diocese threaten Attorney T. Paul Tremont regarding the claims that are being made and, at that time, the community as a whole is not ready to accept them. This skepticism changes dramatically over the next several years as additional survivors of childhood clergy sex abuse come forward.
From the beginning, Tremont & Sheldon claims that there is an ongoing cover-up regarding clergy sex abuse in this Diocese. Instead of removing the perpetrator from the priesthood, he would be summarily transferred to another parish. Tremont & Sheldon believes that the Diocese of Bridgeport, including Cardinal Egan, allowed known sex abusers to continue on as active priests, enabling these offenders to have contact with children.
"In connection with our cases, we have situations where the Diocese is informed of the priest's sexual misconduct and merely transfers him to another parish. This conduct is not only shocking but reckless," says Attorney Cindy Robinson.
All of the global settlements are reached following lengthy mediations where United States Magistrate Judge William I. Garfinkel of the United States District Court agrees to serve as the mediator.
During this time, attorneys at Tremont & Sheldon and several of their clients travel to Hartford to persuade Connecticut legislators to extend the statute of limitations. In May of 2002, the legislators agree and give victims until their 48th birthday in which to file civil claims. Tremont & Sheldon is also one of the first firms in the state to establish a comprehensive website where it carefully catalogs complaints against priests and the parishes with which they were affiliated.
"We have given victims a voice and in doing so we can help change the behavior of the Church and finally force religious organizations to acknowledge responsibility for the past," says Attorney Jason Tremont.
The sexual abuse survivors have shown incredible courage during this process. "We hope that our settlements will in some way assist our clients in their ongoing healing process," says Attorney Douglas Mahoney.
The effect of being sexually exploited, abused, or assaulted as a child will leave permanent scars on all of these clients. However, we are confident that in coming forward and speaking out about the terrible things that happened to them as children, they have undoubtedly raised the public's awareness of these abuses, resulting in the formation and implementation of sexual abuse prevention policies. Hopefully, vigilant enforcement of these policies will prevent future assaults upon children.
In connection with all of our settlements, Tremont & Sheldon asks area Dioceses to take whatever steps are necessary in order to laicize (permanent removal from the priesthood) any priest who has sexually exploited, abused, or assaulted a child. Suspension from the priesthood is not enough.