The pope probably doesn't much like Jeffrey Herman. The 48-year-old Aventura attorney has won settlements from the Catholic Church totaling more than $5 million in recent years. In one 2005 lawsuit, he garnered $1.5 million from Central Florida Archdiocese. This past July, his clients were among those rewarded $5.5 million from a settlement with the church in Denver.
Come to think of it, most religious leaders probably bear little affection for this guy. He has litigated against rabbis, Methodist and Baptist leaders, and Mormon bishops.
His workday last Thursday would have been momentous by most people's standards. He announced the filing of a case alleging that a now-middle-age man was traumatized after being repeatedly raped by a perverted priest 30 years ago. As a boy, the client would burn the clothes he was molested in. As an adult, he can't talk on the phone without scrubbing his ears, or allow a visitor into his home, or hold a job.
And there was more. The Archdiocese of Miami had last week issued an official apology as part of a settlement in another of Herman's cases, involving youth minister Anthony B. Ricco's sexual abuse of a young girl. Since the church usually displays the contrite humility of Barry Bonds, this is a very rare occurrence. "It's a grave betrayal of trust," Herman says of sexual abuse by clergy. "There's no accountability in the Catholic Church."
The father of four was a successful commercial lawyer before he shifted exclusively to sexual-abuse cases several years ago. He was looking, he says, for meaning. "I can tell you, at the end of the year," he recalls of his commercial practice, "nobody cared in the least whether one corporation had a little more money than the other. Now I've had clients tell them God sent me to help them."
Herman, a practicing Jew, makes clear that his prosecuting passion doesn't reflect disdain for organized religion. "Many of my clients feel like they've lost their place in their church because of their experiences," he says. "Some of them desperately want to be a part of the Catholic Church again. Having the church accept culpability helps them get past those feelings of guilt and being wronged."
And, of course, it's not just raw altruism that brings Herman to his field. Clergy sexual misconduct has been referred to as a "lucrative litigation niche" and civil law's newest "fad." "As a lawyer, I've done well with these cases — it's no secret," says Herman, whose golf-course-side home is worth more than a million bucks.