Inland Southern California
Wednesday September 29, 2004 12:33 p.m. CDT
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CHANGE: For one year, accusers can sue those who were helped by the statute of limitations.
12:54 AM PDT on Wednesday, September 29, 2004
By MICHAEL FISHER / The Press-Enterprise
A new state law temporarily will allow adult victims of decades-old sexual abuse to sue even if criminal charges against the suspected perpetrator were dismissed or their convictions overturned due to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year.
Authorities say the measure approved last month by the Legislature and signed Friday by Gov. Schwarzenegger could revive an unknown number of lawsuits. Those cases had unraveled in June 2003 after the court struck down a state law that had allowed prosecutors to file criminal molestation charges after the six-year statute of limitations had expired.
Beginning Jan. 1, adult victims of child molestation from decades ago will have one year to file a lawsuit against suspected molesters if a criminal case against that person was dismissed or overturned by that Supreme Court decision, said Alexandra Montgomery, consultant to the bill's author, Sen. Joseph Dunn, D-Garden Grove.
Some victims had not sued before the statute of limitations allowing a lawsuit had expired in their cases, some of which date to 1960s or further. But state law permits a victim to sue the abuser up to one year after the offender is convicted of criminal charges, officials said.
"Under the statute, if you get a criminal conviction, you could file a civil complaint within a year after the conviction and that's what many victims were pinning their hopes on," said Hallye Jordan, spokeswoman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer. "When (the Supreme Court ruling) came down, it stripped them of being able to obtain a criminal conviction."
Jordan said the new law could affect hundreds of cases, but Montgomery estimated the number would not be large.
Last year's 5-4 Supreme Court ruling led prosecutors to drop pending charges against dozens of accused molesters, including two former Inland Catholic priests who had been accused of sexually abusing children decades earlier. It also led some sex offenders to be released from prison after their convictions were overturned.
Lockyer, who sponsored the new legislation, said in a statement that the law "will provide needed civil relief to those who were sexually abused as children and then re-victimized when their molesters were freed of criminal liability by the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling."
Under state law, a victim of childhood sexual abuse can sue until he or she turns 26, or within three years of the time he or she discovers the adult-onset of psychological injuries or illnesses caused by the abuse, whichever occurs later.
John Manly, a Costa Mesa attorney representing sexual abuse victims in 80 lawsuits targeting Catholic dioceses across the state, praised the new law as a means of holding molesters accountable.
"People who were victimized by these predators have a right to justice, and to the extent that this gives people access to court to hold their perpetrators ... accountable, it is a good thing," said Manly, who clients include a man who claims he was molested by a former priest at the Society of the Divine Word Seminary in Riverside in 1976.More headlines... More... ARTICLE TOOLS: Print it | Discuss it | E-mail it to a friend
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