The parents of hundreds of victims streamed into a Baltimore law office, detailing abuse at the hands of a Delaware pediatrician convicted last year of sexual attacks on children.
The Baltimore firm of Schochor, Federico & Staton helped negotiate a $123 million settlement for almost 900 victims — including about 100 from the Eastern Shore — who have come forward to claim a share of the compensation fund for Earl B. Bradley's victims. The pediatrician abused young patients in his office, sometimes videotaping the attacks.
"This is the worst, most tragic case involving a single perpetrator in our nation's history," attorney Jonathan Schochor said. "He was let free to do this for 15 years."
A Delaware judge approved the civil settlement for Bradley's victims last month, and the window for claimants to come forward closes Friday. Attorneys involved in the case say it represents a new way of dealing with the fallout from sexual abuse cases with multiple victims, mediating through a class action as opposed to filing individual claims.
Joseph R. Slights III, the judge, wrote in the final settlement agreement that a collective mediation ensured all victims could receive compensation and allowed Bradley's "already traumatized" victims to avoid lengthy court cases. He added that many of the defendants had "substantive defenses" they could have used had cases been litigated in court.
Bradley was arrested in December 2009, convicted in a bench trial last year of rape, assault and sexual exploitation of a child, and sentenced to 14 consecutive life terms and an additional 164 years in prison. His lawyers appealed, but the Delaware Supreme Court upheld the conviction in September.
Bradley was represented by the Delaware public defender's office, which declined to comment on the settlement.
In the settlement, Slights described Bradley's "reign of abuse" against infants and children, stretching from the mid-1990s until his arrest in 2009. Bradley filmed some of his attacks using what the judge described as an "elaborate" system installed in his offices.
Schochor and his team of attorneys represented families of 360 children abused by Bradley; other law firms handled the remainder of the cases. Schochor's team spent months interviewing the parents and assessing the condition of their children.
"It was exhausting," Schochor said. "It's been the most difficult, gut-wrenching litigation I have ever been involved with."
He described how Bradley allegedly drugged lollipops he gave his young patients to dull the physical and emotional pain of the attacks. "He was a monster," Schochor said.
Bradley had no assets or insurance that could be tapped to compensate his victims. The plaintiffs in the case sued Beebe Medical Center, where Bradley had worked until 2002 and he retained hospital privileges, as well as the Medical Society of Delaware and other defendants, alleging that the hospital and a number of doctors should have investigated reports of abuse more thoroughly.
The medical center worried it would be bankrupted by a wave of lawsuits and sought a mediated settlement, according to the final agreement.
"I think that the hospital did everything in its power to help heal this situation," said Michael M. Mustokoff, one of Beebe's attorneys. "Its mission is to provide health care and medical service to the people of southern Delaware, and they saw any legal maneuvering as inconsistent with that mission."
The settlement deal also protects the medical center from any future lawsuits. The individual doctors named in the suit and the Medical Society of Delaware were cleared of any wrongdoing but agreed to contribute to the fund.
Once lawyers' fees have been paid, about $90 million will remain in the pot, divided up according to how severely a victim was abused. Thomas B. Rutter, an attorney who managed payouts to victims of abuse in the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, will determine the exact compensation working with a child psychiatrist.
Schochor said that he hopes the case will signal to hospitals that they can no longer ignore allegations of abuse and expect to avoid liability.
"This is pointed evidence of what can happen If people in the position of responsibility are not vigilant to the degree that they must be," he said. "What happened here must not happen any place else."