cohen burns hard paul law firm



Practice Areas

  • Real Estate
  • Commercial law
  • Personal injury
  • Litigation
  • Bankruptcy
  • Landlord/tenant
  • Family law
  • Criminal law


81 South Main Street
West Hartford, CT
(West Hartford Center)
(860) 561-1036

191 Albany Turnpike
Collinsville, CT
(Rte 44, near the Shoppes at Canton)
(860) 693-1201

Interview With Attorney Mitchell Garabedian for Connecticut Lawyer Magazine.

Connecticut Lawyer contributor Eric Hard recently spoke with Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, a featured speaker on occasion of the Spring Awakening, the reopening of the American Museum of Tort Law in Winsted, Connecticut. Garabedian was portrayed by Stanley Tucci in the movie "Spotlight", and represented victims of priest abuse and Catholic church corruption in Boston, Massachusetts.


Eh            Where did you grow up?

Mg            Methuen, Massachusetts, near the New Hampshire border, on a farm.

Eh            Is there anything about where you grew up that you credit for your approach to law?

Mg            I had a great childhood on a farm, with a loving family, that taught me right from wrong and gave me the confidence to proceed morally in life.

Eh            And your education?

Mg            Coming from a farm, it was a big step going to college.

Eh            In the area of law for which you are known, you encounter people who have a strong sense that there is a  moral framework they have signed on to, the only world they know, and then, suddenly, it is completely corrupted, and they must deal with that disconnect between what they were taught and what is happening here and now in their lives.

Mg            Yes.

Eh            And then because of their youth, and the power of the perpetrators, they pack it away for years.  It must create a unique challenge from a legal perspective.

Mg            That innocent children could be treated that way, time and again, by a purportedly moral entity such as the Catholic Church, I knew I had to find a way to help these children, who are now adults, in many cases.

Eh            Were you already taking on unlikely causes prior to the first priest abuse case that came your way?

Mg            Not in massive numbers, but I was used to working with people who were down and out and needed relief from the legal system.

Eh            Did you view yourself as an iconoclast?

Mg            I just wanted to represent people adequately who needed legal help.

Eh            One obstacle you faced in the priest cases was the statute of limitations.

Mg            I was able to use the law in Massachusetts to work around the statute of limitations in regard to supervisor liability.  Clergy sexual abuses cases, like many cases, aren’t really about money, which is only a symbol of validation that the victims, the plaintiffs, did nothing wrong, and they should try to gain a degree of closure and healing, so that they can move on with their lives with their helds held high.

Eh            What were you thinking at the time?

Mg            When I first took on sexual abuse cases involving Father Geoghan in 1995, the Catholic Church was throwing everything they could at me, and I was ready to go down with the ship; I was going to give it my all.

Eh            Did it help that you were an outsider?

Mg            Without a doubt.  That I was not part of the community was very important.  They realized that I could not be bought.  They were throwing a lot of money at me and my clients, if my clients would sign confidentiality agreements, to keep sexual abuse matters a secret.

Eh            It seems that there was seduction not merely on an individual level, but also at an institutional level, at that time, in Boston.

Mg            The Catholic Church used its greed and influence through the veil of religion to control the community, to allow predators to molest thousands of children.

Eh            The Boston Globe brought in a new editor at that time who also was not part of that community.

Mg            That is correct.  It was not business as usual with my cases, and, apparently, it was not business as usual with Marty Baron at the Globe.

Eh            Did you ever find out who removed the exhibits to your brief from the court file?

Mg            No.  They mysteriously disappeared.

Eh            What’s your view of the movie “Spotlight”?

Mg            Very powerful, a labor of love by the entire cast and crew.  It drove home many messages about the evils of clergy sexual abuse and the cover-up.

Eh            Was the power of the Catholic Church different than other types of institutionalized power?

Mg            Yes, because of the religious aspect.  Priests would often threaten children to keep the matters a secret, because, they told the children, your mother will burn in hell, your parents will get divorced, all kinds of threats, and the children believed them.  When the mothers would go to report the abuse, the supervising priests would say, you don’t want to hurt the Catholic Church now, do you?  Also, Canon Law states that when sexual abuse matters are looked into, they shall be kept secret.

Eh            You, Ralph Nader, and Jan Schlichtmann all have something in common.  You stick to it.  If you combine that with some legal know how, it is amazing what gets accomplished.

Mg            My hat is off to Ralph Nader and Jan Schlictmann.  They are certainly heroes, as far as I’m concerned.

Eh            You and Schlictmann both had to overcome obstacles in order to have something that could possibly play in a court room. 

Mg             In both cases, it was going up against greedy, powerful, influential institutions.

Eh            Also the ethereal and ephemeral nature of the evidence, distance in time, and the like.

Mg            Impediments for us included the disbelief in the community in general, and the lapse of time between the actual abuse and when the abuse was reported.

Eh            Is there a scientific aspect to this, figuring whether people are accurately recalling things from their youth?

Mg            I do a lot of checking and cross checking.  It takes months to review and put into place.  I collect medical records, therapy records, criminal records, educational records, employment records, I send individuals to forensic psychiatrists for evaluation.  A lot involves times and places.  There are books telling us where priests are, whether they were in treatment, and each predator has his own sexual habits.

Eh            The long hours you put into your cases, does that relate to growing up on a farm?

Mg            When I was a child, we worked, but it was not laborious, work was not something that was painful to me.   When these clergy abuse cases came to me, it was a no brainer.

Eh            What was your best day?

Mg            Every day is my best day.  I regularly get calls from people thanking me, for helping to get their lives back on track, giving them a voice, helping them regain a sense of self esteem and dignity.  Some clients call me from 15 years ago, just to say hello.

Eh            Where is your focus now?

Mg            We are now championing changing the statutes of limitations in various states, civilly and criminally, so that cases can be brought.

Eh            What do you think life is about?

Mg            Life is about helping others, trying to do what is moral, and being kind.

Eh            What to you think are the long-term prospects for the practice of law, as a vocation?

Mg            Practicing law needs passion.  That passion will help you succeed, in whatever field.

Eh            What do you make of the current presidential race?

Mg            I know that the Pope has referred to wall building and his opposition to it.  The Pople should understand that the Catholic Church has built a huge wall between itself and victims of clergy sexual abuse.  For victims to try to heal, that wall should come down.

Eh            What was it like having a Globe reporter bugging you?

Mg            At first, the Globe reporter was trying to figure out if I was just an ambulance chaser, trying to make a name for myself; and I was trying to figure out if he was just a shill for the church.  At some point we started to get to know each other and trust each other.  I realized he was trying to get to the truth. 

Eh            Did they get the story right?

Mg            They did a great job.  They deserved the Pulitzer prize.

Eh            Does it matter in your mind that personal injury law includes an element of self-enrichment on the part of the attorneys?

Mg            No.  People have said to me in the past, who dislike me, you are only doing it for the money.  I say to them, if I’m doing it for the money, or not, I’m helping the world be a better place, preventing child abuse, aren’t I?  Filing 86 lawsuits in 1995 is indicative of the fact that I was not in it for the money.

Eh            How did those cases not get dismissed out of the box?

Mg            Because we had grey claims regarding the statutes of limitations, and they had not been tested in the court. 

Eh            Why do you think lawyers are an easy target for negative public opinion?

Mg            Just like any other profession, there are some lawyers who don’t act appropriately, they are identified for that, and it gives the profession a bad name.

Eh            What larger message is there for society in these priest abuse cases?

Mg            Watch your children.  Don’t trust huge institutions and their claims about morality and authority.

Eh            Do you have a message for your colleagues in Connecticut?

Mg            Pay attention to the work that is on your desk.  Pay attention to your client.  Do the best you can.  You will get much satisfaction from that.

Eh            What is your view of the Museum of Torts?
Mg            I think it is a great idea.  It shows how lawyers help people get access to the justice system.


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