Yesterday was the day that the Child Victims Act took effect in New York State.
Among other things, the new law allows those who were the victim of any type of sexual assault or molestation in New York State a one-year “window” in which to file claims against their abusers regardless of when the alleged abuse occurred (Many of those civil claims would otherwise be time-barred by the state’s old statute of limitations for such claims).
After the one-year “window” closes, victims will have until they turn 55 to file such civil claims. The old statute of limitations for such civil actions was three years beginning when the victim turned 18-years-old.
The new law also extends the period of time in which criminal charges can be brought against alleged perpetrators.
Now, victims will have until they turn 28 to file criminal complaints involving felony charges – and until 25 to file such complaints for misdemeanor charges (Both of those represent five-year extensions over the prior thresholds).
427 Lawsuits Filed on Day #1
According to the New York State Office of Court Administration, there were a total of 427 Child Victims Act-related lawsuits filed yesterday.
Court officials indicated that they expect that number will eventually rise to 1,000.
That estimate seems way low to me.
Roman Catholic Church & Boy Scouts Among Top Named Defendants
As expected, the Roman Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts were among the top-named defendants in the actions that were filed yesterday.
But numerous suits were also filed against schools, teachers, and hospitals.
Even the late(?) Jeffrey Epstein was named as a defendant in one lawsuit (It was actually his estate that was named as the defendant in a lawsuit that was filed by a woman who claims that she was raped by Epstein when she was a teenager).
News Conferences Held All Over New York State
All across the state, law firms and victim-survivors groups held news conferences to discuss the lawsuits they were filing.
Jeff Anderson, whose Minnesota-based law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates represents victims of child sexual abuse, indicated that in addition to protecting past victims of sexual abuse, the new law would also offer more protection for future victims.
“This is their chance to take some action to begin the recovery of their power and to protect kids in the future better than they were,” Anderson said after a news conference with survivors in Albany. “It doesn’t deny the sorrow of what has been, but it is one of the biggest steps in the child-protection movement I’ve been associated with.”
Anderson indicated that his firm and other law firms it was working with on Child Victims Act-related cases had filed a total of 262 lawsuits yesterday. Many of those involved clergy spread all over New York State.
Anderson is working on the cases with lawyers including Robins Kaplan in New York City, Steve Boyd in Buffalo and Cynthia LaFave of LaFave, Wein & Frament in Albany.
“Today, it was the Catholic clergy – but there are many more to follow”, Anderson said. “It says something about the magnitude of the issue”,
New York City attorney Stephen Weiss noted in a statement that his firm had filed 15 Child Victims Act-related cases yesterday – all of which involved claims against the Catholic Church.
“Today is the beginning of accountability for the Catholic Church and other institutions that have turned a blind eye to child sexual abuse in the state of New York”, Weiss said. “Survivors will no longer be silenced”.
Weiss also noted that his firm currently represents another 155 victims around New York State.
Is the New Law Constitutional?
Even before the new law went into effect, legal scholars were debating whether some of its provisions are constitutional.
In criminal cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that a law which extended the applicable statute of limitations to revive an otherwise time-barred prosecution violates the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
That is why the Child Victims Act can not be used to revive criminal charges that were time-barred before the new law went into effect.
But the judicial landscape is less clear when it comes to the retroactive application of new statutes of limitations with respect to civil claims.
For the most part, such applications have been deemed constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court unless they are deemed to be punitive in nature.
A separate constitutional issue will arise if a plaintiff tries to bring a claim under the Child Victims Act that was previously deemed to be time-barred.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court has apparently not ruled on that issue, it seems unlikely that it would allow such a claim to move forward under the new law because to do so would, in effect, allow the legislature to overturn a final judgment by a court – which would violate the separation of powers doctrine.
Is the New Law Fair and Reasonable?
Separate and apart from the question of whether the Child Victims Act is constitutional is the question of whether it’s fair and reasonable.
From the standpoint of those who end up being accused, the new law certainly poses some serious problems.
How the hell does someone who gets sued under the new law defend themselves about an incident that happened 30 or 40 or 50 years ago?
Does this mean that I have to worry about that college sophomore who was a little drunk when I took her home for the night suddenly deciding that she now thinks I sexually abused her?
How the hell do I defend myself against that kind of allegation? How do I track down witnesses who could buttress my side of the story?
The bar where we were that night is long-closed – and the bartender who served us drinks that night is probably dead.
My roommate was killed in a car accident 10 years ago, so he’s not going to be available to testify on my behalf.
And what about the mere threat of getting sued?
How many potential defendants will end up settling even before a case gets filed just to keep the matter from becoming public?
Certainly, just about anyone who’s an elected official or a candidate for public office would be especially vulnerable to such a threat.
The same holds true for just about every high school and college coach in New York State.
And what about allegations against those who have recently died – and whose estates have not yet been settled?
How many claims are going to be asserted against the estates of wealthy people who recently died –and who will be unable to defend themselves against such claims?
How long will the probate process be held up while the sexual abuse claim works its work through the now thoroughly bottle-necked legal system?
I’m afraid we’ve opened up a can of worms here – and one that’s going to be very hard to close back up.
What say you, Frank Report readers?