The Roman Catholic Church is under siege from Victorian victims of clergy abuse with one lawyer involved in settling eight $1 million plus cases this year.
Three of those cases in the process of being finalised involve the Ballarat diocese, resulting in payouts of more than $1.5 million, plus costs, including a Warrnambool schoolboy rape victim.
Geelong-based barrister David O'Brien is now seen by many lawyers handling such cases as an essential part of any legal team.
Mr O'Brien was previously a member of the State Parliament legislative council representing Western Victoria.
During his time in parliament he took part in the Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations which led to him representing victims in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
IN OTHER NEWS
Those involvements, combined with his legal background, make the 50-year-old uniquely placed, especially now with his mediation experience.
Mr O'Brien said it was a specialty he never sought, but after leaving parliament he was approached by a number of south-west victims to advocate for them at the Royal Commission.
He said he had sought and gained permission to act through through parliamentary and legal avenues.
The barrister said much of his knowledge was in the public domain, but not easily accessible.
Leading compensation lawyers Arnold Thomas and Becker principle Lee Flanagan said Mr O'Brien was the pre-eminent barrister for clergy sex abuse victims seeking compensation.
Mr Flanagan said his firm currently had about 250 sex abuse cases on its books, with about 75 involving clergy abuse.
He described Mr O'Brien as a paedophile hunter, with a unique background, who worked crazy hours to pursue compensation for victims.
Mr O'Brien takes a low key approach to his work, often alongside barrister colleague Gary Taylor.
"It's not pleasant work but it has to be done," he said.
Mr O'Brien first touched on clergy abuse cases in the mid-1990s, but he was keen to acknowledge the work of victim advocates such as Frank Costa, Father Kevin Dillon and Helen Last, who had called out the church for failing to address its failings and that of clergy members.
He said he previously didn't personally know the south-west victims, but he had been trusted to run their cases.
"The legal system encourages resolution of disputes," he said.
The barrister said he had a number of Supreme Court cases pending mid this year and 50 cases in various stages.
"There were 3000 victims identified by the Royal Commission," Mr O'Brien said, adding there were also deeds of settlement that could be set aside that were signed prior to July 1, 2018.
"I recommend very strongly for victims to take action through civil court rather than go through the capped National Redress Scheme.
"The compensation available through civil court is 10 times as much - that's not exorbitant - but these cases are being settled for realistic amounts that what would settle for at trial.
"They involve very serious issues, either criminal charges or morally reprehensible conduct.
"The courage of advocates and victims has led to significant breakthroughs - the dam has broken."
Ballarat Bishop Paul Bird was unavailable to comment.