Diocese of Winona wants venue change

Published 9:32 am Tuesday, July 8, 2014

By Chao Xiong

Attorneys for the Diocese of Winona filed a motion Monday to move the location of a civil trial about alleged sexual abuse and coverup by the church due to “intense prejudicial” pretrial publicity.

The motion, filed in the Doe 1 case that spurred the deposition of Archbishop John Nienstedt and the Rev. Kevin McDonough, argues for a change of venue from Ramsey County to either Olmsted County in southeastern Minnesota, St. Louis County in northeastern Minnesota or Clay County in the northwest part of the state.

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The issue will be argued before Ramsey County District Judge John Van de North on July 21. Doe 1 is suing the diocese, Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and his alleged attacker, Thomas Adamson. The jury trial is scheduled for Sept. 22.

The church’s memorandum supporting its motion said the “media frenzy” surrounding the suit has prejudiced an overwhelming number of potential jurors in Ramsey County.

“The media coverage of this case has been extensive, pervasive, and in large part, fueled by the plaintiff,” it said. “This media reporting has not been fairly balanced, has repeatedly cast the Catholic Church and the defendants in a negative light …”

The diocese hired a professional jury consultant to anonymously poll 302 jury-qualified Ramsey County residents via telephone about the case.

According to the affidavit of consultant Paul Jepsen: Eighty-one percent of residents polled in June were aware of the lawsuit, 45 percent said they believed the church and Adamson were “liable for sexual abuse” and 4 percent said the defendants were not liable for sexual abuse.

Jepsen said in his affidavit that the remainder of the population that isn’t aware of the case is likely to be “significantly different from a fair cross section of jury-qualified residents.” They are likely to be less educated, less informed, less involved with the church and “will likely be harmful to the defense,” he wrote.

—Distributed by MCT Information Services