updated 8/24/2007 10:45:55 PM ET 2007-08-25T02:45:55

A federal bankruptcy judge on Friday ordered immediate jury trials in more than 40 sex-abuse lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego.

Trials scheduled in San Diego for five cases had been suspended in February when the diocese abruptly filed for bankruptcy protection, the night before the first trial was slated to begin.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Louise DeCarl Adler’s ruling on the 42 lawsuits is a victory for about 150 people who claim they were sexually abused by priests as children.

Their lawyers told the judge Thursday that re-activating those trials was the only way to get the diocese into a settlement after more than three years of fruitless negotiations in state and federal courts.

The San Diego diocese has offered about $94 million to settle the claims as part of its bankruptcy reorganization plan. Plaintiffs’ attorneys are seeking a settlement of about $200 million.

Attorneys for the diocese have argued that jury trials would slow progress toward a settlement and may give unfair priority to the claims of plaintiffs whose cases went to trial first.

Other trials settled
With nearly 1 million Catholics and holdings throughout San Diego County, the diocese is the largest and wealthiest of the five U.S. dioceses to have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection under the shadow of civil claims over sexual abuse.

Dioceses in Spokane, Wash., Portland, Ore., and Tucson, Ariz., have already emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The Davenport, Iowa, diocese, which faces claims from more than 150 people, is still in proceedings.

The Los Angeles Archdiocese settled 508 cases for $660 million in July, two days before jury selection was scheduled to begin in the first of 15 trials involving 172 abuse claimants.

The Orange County, Calif., diocese agreed to settle 90 claims for $100 million in 2004 after a judge promised to set trial dates and begin the discovery process if settlement talks collapsed. Bishop Tod D. Brown later said he couldn’t risk a trial in a state where a jury once awarded $30 million to two people who claimed they were sexually abused by clergy.

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