Photo by Dave Lauridsen.
Nearly a decade ago, Los Angeles plaintiffs' lawyer Ray Boucher made headlines predicting that clergy sex abuse claims against the Catholic Church in Southern California could net more than $1 billion. Little did he know then that he would win a tenacious land-war against the church on behalf of victims of horrifying abuse exceeding that – including $660 million against the Los Angeles Archdiocese, resulting in the retirement of Cardinal Roger Mahoney. Lesser known outside of Southern California is how Boucher battled on after the 2007 settlement to secure the release of secret church records, which were unsealed last year, revealing that senior church leaders knew of abuse and worked in concert to hide it and shelter those who molested children.
The sex abuse litigation was hard fought and exacted an enormous toll on Boucher, who recently formed Khorrami Boucher Sumner Sanguinetti with noted Los Angeles lawyer Shawn Khorrami.
Lawdragon: Ray, you’re so well known in California for your relentless pursuit of the Catholic Church on behalf of molestation victims. Can you talk a bit about how you got involved in that case?
Ray Boucher: Call it coincidence, serendipity. At the time I had significant involvement in California politics and I was working heavily to expose the five primary marketers of electricity in California for their gaming of the system. And I had convinced Senator Joe Dunn, now head of the State Bar of California, to begin a bipartisan investigation of the electricity crisis in California and the market manipulation that led to that crisis.
In the course of preparing him for a hearing he was conducting and the cross-examination of some of his witnesses, I came into his office and there was Minnesota lawyer Jeff Anderson and several victims of clergy sexual abuse meeting with Senator Dunn. And they were trying to open the window of the statute of limitations for the victims' claims. By pure coincidence I happened to be there that day, and met the victims.
LD: What was the significance of the statute of limitations for the victims of clergy sexual abuse?
RB: Senator Dunn solicited my assistance in drafting the bill and, more importantly, in helping to obtain coauthors in the Assembly and to move the bill through as quickly as possible. And we were able to move that bill through faster than any non-emergency legislation in California history. The bill overturned a couple of California state cases that had foreclosed claims by people who had been sexually abused as children.
The bill gave them a one-year window to bring a lawsuit against the third-party entities that were responsible for the harm to them. So – whether it was a school, the Boy Scouts or the Catholic Church – if there was someone who harbored that predator and did so knowingly, this bill gave the victims the opportunity to hold them accountable.
LD: So within a year you had filed claims?
RB: One of my concerns was that not everybody who had been sexually abused and were suffering in silence would know to avail themselves of that one-year window. And experience has born that out even to this day. A week ago, we got out the file on a priest named Father Martinez. I’ve had 15 calls from victims who had never known they could have filed. They are severely injured. My concern and worry always was that exactly that case would occur. So even before the statute went into effect, I filed a class action. The idea behind it was to make available the window to those who might not yet know of either their injury, or that they could make a claim.
Under the Supreme Court decision American Pipe v. Utah, if there’s a class action that’s filed and it’s a colorable claim, people who would fit under that class have their statute of limitations tolled. If the class is certified, it’s not an issue. If it’s not, then the plaintiffs may have the chance to go forward under a broader window. So the idea was to file the lawsuit as a class action with the hope that we would give victims who unfortunately didn’t file within the window potentially additional time to bring their claims.
LD: And as I recall you never sought class certification because the case settled. That was an extraordinarily hard-fought case, both because of its complexity, the high emotions it brought forth, religion, and the battles not just with defense lawyers, but among the plaintiffs' bar. Was this the most difficult case you ever worked on?
RB: It’s hard to say. In many ways it was because sometimes you have to play on a five-level chessboard. This case was 10 to 15 levels because you had the Archdiocese and all of its fears, its denial, the centuries-old desire to sweep the dust and dirt underneath the rug and project this pristine image. And that was a significant layer that required a nimble strategy to manage.
On top of that you have the whole group of subsidiaries, known as orders, that weren’t necessarily in synch with the Archdiocese and that created opportunities if managed correctly but it also created massive obstacles. There’s a fiddle you had to play with them. And then you had to try to find those few orders that might have the courage to go their own path and use that series and to stagger them in the right way so that it had the necessary impact. And then you had the insurance carriers and companies. There were primary blocks of carriers interacting with coverage counsel for the Archdiocese, as well as the different individual carriers.
A plaintiffs' lawyer involved in the Boston settlements, a very good lawyer, outstanding reputation was asked by The Times about my claim that the cases would settle for over one billion dollars, he said I was fuckin’ nuts
LD: And they ended up being?
RB: A billion and a half. Jack Quinn, an outstanding lawyer who had sort of taken point for the carriers, and I would have breakfast every couple months. And I’m talking to Mike Hennigan, who represented the LA Archdiocese, coverage counsel with Hennigan, independent coverage counsel, the orders. And Jack would say the one thing you can do for me is never say a billion and a half. His client, Allianz, was livid. You see, I had been asked about the insurance piece in a big national magazine article. I said there’s $75 million worth of coverage per case in some of these cases under certain scenarios. So early on I was quoted saying I thought the clergy cases could be worth a billion to a billion-and-a-half dollars. Quinn told me I was fuckin’ nuts.
And then you had all the plaintiffs' lawyers, all of whom had their own independent clients and obligations to those clients. Some of whom had their own personalized agendas and most of whom really wanted to work together collaboratively and to assist. And you had leaks and management of leaks. Then the question became if you knew you had a leak, what information did you want to put out there that might assist what you wanted to do in six months.
And then we had our own clients, and everybody else’s clients. I also was viewed as responsible for them, so I would meet with victims around the state who had their own agendas. When will there be a settlement? A trial? How do we stop the discovery, why can’t we blow up the Archdiocese? Everybody had a creative idea that needed to be vetted, evaluated and respected.
And on top of all that you had the sheer emotion associated with the evil. I sat down and edited the personal DVDs of over 500 victims in which they told their story so judges could evaluate it. There are human life experiences of my clients that will remain a part of who I am for the rest of my life.
LD: And that was the hardest part.
RB: Absolutely. The energy cases were difficult, the complexity of the issues, getting into the bowels of the swaps, how the gaming of the system was working, the congestion, the timing of the congestion. You had to understand the five primary electric companies in California delivery system, the markets and the marketing companies. You had to understand what effect a swap by an electric company in California might have on a natural gas company in Colorado and why that could impact what they were putting online in California.
But I didn’t have to manage plaintiffs. The electric cases had emotion, but not the same deep-rooted human emotion. And they had far-reaching impact, but they didn’t touch people’s lives in the same way. The electric companies had sufficient assets to deal with whatever the ultimate resolution was. There was also an overlay of government, involving the Senate select committee and then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer. Also, there were multiple plaintiff firms, some of whom were Johnny come latelys, and different law firms took different responsibilities.
LD: Sitting here today, what did you learn from those two huge cases, both of which netted more than a billion dollars for consumers and victims.
RB: You know, it’s what I learned from the clergy cases. There really aren’t any big cases or small cases. I mean we all want to make an impact. We all want to bring justice to the bar of justice. We all want to help fix an imperfect society and we believe the civil justice system is a means of being able to do that and we hope that it is and that we can be part of the instruments of that change.
But what I learned from the clergy cases was a reinforcement of sort of the perspective I came out of law school with. There aren’t any cases that are big or small. ....
It’s like life. I learned last night that my Aunt died. My Aunt Anne was this angel, a sweet, beautiful, soft human being that was the constant, unfailing companion of her husband, my Uncle Dougie. Dougie was just a guy’s guy, funny, beer drinking, Irish Catholic, janitor; just a fun guy. At 60, he could still do backflips. He’s my mom’s youngest brother, and she’s the youngest. Dougie died two months ago, he had dementia and Alzheimer’s. It was hard for my Aunt to manage, but she stuck by him and managed it. And two months later, she’s in a car accident and dies at 87. Is that a significant case? My cousin lost both parents in two months. He’s 50 years old, going through a bitter divorce. So when I hear judges and lawyers snicker at soft-tissue, car crash rear-end cases, what I learned is there’s no such thing as a big or small case.
We have the honor of representing people at the bar of justice. They come to us on the plaintiff side because they have, among other things, a broken heart, there’s something broken about them. There are psychological complexities. But every case is a big case. If we can help heal that heart in some fashion, big and small, then the ripple effect that has on the other people in their lives, family and friends, has an impact on society, on the world. And so I guess the cynicism that you hear from the bench at times, from the current [U.S.] Supreme Court, oftentimes from corporate America or the defense bar, when I look out these eyes and I see that world and I hear the stories of the people affected by bad corporate decisionmaking it’s the ability to help manage the impact of that, to help mitigate that impact, to bring solace and comfort to people affected that really motivates us as lawyers.
One of the first cases I ever handled out of law school was for a client against Rockwell International. He was a triple amputee Vietnam veteran, and it was a wrongful termination and discrimination case. And the viciousness with which he was treated in the workplace was beyond comprehension. And I remember fighting on that case in a dogfight for a very long time. There were almost 100 depositions and motions on motions on motions.
I was hell bent on going to trial. What ultimately resolved it instead of going to trial was when Bobby said to me, "My van is broken down, I’m on food stamps and my electricity has been turned off. I can’t take a warm bath."
So that’s what we have the honor of doing for people. Trying to give them some dignity and humanity back and trying to change bad behavior so it doesn’t impact others. I don’t care if it’s a wage and hour, or wrongful termination or soft-tissue auto or mass-tort pharmaceutical case, our job is to reach out with a helping hand in the halls of justice in the hopes we can bring some sunshine and humanity back into their lives.
LD: Let’s talk about your plans now that you’ve partnered with Shawn Khorrami.
RB: One of the exciting things right now is the ability to sit down and look around the world at the conduct of multinational corporations, some of whom are exporting products illegal in the U.S. and showing conscious disregard for the rights and humanity of others. Things they can’t get away with here in the U.S. that they don’t think twice of in third-world developing countries.
Babies ought to be born with arms. Children ought to be going to school not relegated to a life of incapacity incapable of functioning because their IQ is so low because they’ve been poisoned by the plants that feed the global appetite for products. The economy is important. But there’s a way to do it in a human structure that is fair and just. That’s one of the things I’m looking to do in the future is to become more engaged in the global fight against terrorism and inhumanity.
LD: I know you represented Cesar Chavez early in your career. When did you become interested in international justice?
RB: I’ve been involved in international cases since I became a lawyer. Sometimes quietly and behind the scenes, sometimes in the forefront. But as the doors of justice are closed by decisions that are economic-based decisions by U.S. courts, we really have to truly look at the options available to preserve justice and dignity here in the U.S. and abroad. For me, those are the issues going forward.
LD: Your $660 million settlement with the LA Archdiocese was a watershed, both because of its magnitude, but also because you succeeded in opening long-hidden church files showing how high the conspiracy to cover up clergy sex abuse reached. But you also paid a huge personal price. Your wife left you five days after the settlement was announced and you have endured five tumultuous years of a divorce. Would you bring the church claims again knowing all you would go through?
RB: Without hesitation. Without batting an eye. I’d do it 110 times. It’s what I’m supposed to do.
I always think of the image of that man in Tiananmen Square as the world watched and tanks bore down on him, he was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for his family, his country, humanity, the world knowing that it was too much of a price to pay yet it wasn’t sufficient.
I think that the clients I’ve had through my life as a lawyer, in particular the clergy abuse clients, have shown that courage and tenacity that makes you applaud them and root and cheer for them. And I know that the work we did in the clergy cases changed a lot of lives. I still get messages from so many victims whose lives have been changed for the better. There are still many victims suffering in silence. And the documents coming out are helping others. We’ve also lost clients who’ve taken their lives since the settlement. But I can’t imagine not stepping up.
LD: Were you always like this?
RB: I think I was like this coming out of law school at Pepperdine, it’s just been refined. Some of the rough edges have been filed smooth and other warts and rough edges have emerged.
I found inspiration in a lot of people. Manny Vega, Bobby Witizak, Maria Chavoia, all courageous clients. Cesar Chavez was one of the most thoughtful, gifted, intelligent, hard working, dedicated men the world’s ever seen. He’s left an imprint on the entire world. He stands next to giants like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy. So many others through the decades and centuries that brought about justice. Cesar Chavez didn’t have a college education, a high school education. He grew up in humble beginnings – and you always hear the cliché from athletes that they’ll never forget where they came from. Chavez never had to say "I won’t forget where I came from." Not only did he never forget, he never left.
A law firm called me up when I was in law school, Gould & Sayre. They asked me to come interview and I told them I was going to Colorado to become an environmental lawyer and save the Western Slope from oil shale development. My master’s thesis is on management’s responsibility to mitigate the tertiary impacts from oil shale development, the impact of oil companies coming in to small western slope towns. You see people with drug, alcohol, spousal abuse coming in to these towns that had 100 people and overnight it’s 2,500 people. Yet you have one sheriff who drives the bus, is the fire chief and he’s got one car. Suddenly you have problems.
And do those corporations that come into those communities have a responsibility to come in with foresight and provide resources to those communities to mitigate tertiary impacts? When you don’t have a school system to accommodate these kids. Kids there suddenly with skateboards, tattoos instead of boots and shovels. How do you deal with that shock and provide for the community or do you have to? My master’s thesis was that it was the responsibility of the corporation coming in to mitigate those impacts. That’s what I was going to do.
I met with some of the lawyers at Gould & Sayre, looked at cases they were handling. And they were handling a case against one of the communities in San Diego where a young boy was killed crossing a street without a cross walk. The theory was a constitutional violation of his civil rights because in all the surrounding communities, which were predominately white and wealthier surrounding this community, there were crosswalks and lights. Ralph Fertig brought a civil rights claim to try to require the city to put in the resources commensurate with the wealthier communities. And I thought to myself, "that’s me." That’s why I became a lawyer. And so I made the decision to stay in California.
I had a teacher who was a mentor and former member of the California Supreme Court and he convinced me to take the bar here and pass it. Gould & Sayre represented Cesar Chavez pro bono in the strike violence cases. From there, I got involved in FIFRA [Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act] federal preemption. And I got involved with Cesar who asked me to represent a family of a farmworker who died from poisoning in the field and sued Chevron and Shell for wrongful death.
LD: Tell me a bit about your life with your sons, Raymond and Matheu. You were their primary caregiver at several points during your divorce, and almost every picture in your office other than one with Bill Clinton features them.
RB: I spend most of my spare time with Raymond and Matheu, my two sons. They’re incredible young men. It’s inspiring to see them and to watch them grow, to know the world’s going to be a better place. When I see them and their friends and where they’re coming from, intellectually and emotionally, I’m hopeful for the future.
I’ve always been a rock and mountain climber, river rafting. My father died on a mountain climb in Colorado. I will finish the mountains he didn’t get to climb before the 25th anniversary of his death.
Raymond and Matheu and I do a lot of cooking and baking, traveling around the world, community service, baseball, sports. Fortunately for them, unfortunately for me, they’re now too old for me to coach. And I do a lot of poetry.
LD: We read a lot about how hard it is to be a parent and have a major law practice. How hard has it been for you?
RB: It’s easy. I never missed a baseball game or sporting event at school unless Raymond and Matheu’s schedules conflicted with one another. I was lucky to have law partners that had the same kind of philosophy that family comes first. I’ve watched a lot of other great trial lawyers who managed their practice and family lives well and others who didn’t do so well.
I love the practice of law as the practice of law. And I’ve never quite looked at it as a livelihood although it’s provided me and my family a very good life. People have always understood. Politicians have always understood. The court has always accommodated or found a way with my partners to accommodate. It hasn’t been hard.
LD: Do the kids climb with you?
RB: Sometimes. I don’t take them on the tough climbs. And they worry about me. They know my father died on a climb. They didn’t grow up climbing boulders and rocks. I grew up doing this. One of them enjoys it more than the other; but I’ll remember the rest of my life the vision of the two of them arm in arm at the crest of the first 14,000-foot peak they climbed together. They were 9 and 10. They did three 14,000-foot peaks in two days.