Sunday, October 27, 2013

Jerry Brown Vetoes Calif. Statute of Limitations Bill

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Jerry Brown on Oct. 12 vetoed bill S.B. 131, a measure that would have re-established a two-class system of sex-abuse lawsuits.

The measure would have exempted public schools from liability for historic sexual-abuse cases involving their employees, while leaving Catholic schools open to new charges.

Brown bluntly criticized the state Legislature for sending him the bill, which would have opened a new one-year window in which people who believed they had suffered sexual abuse years ago but had not sought relief during the legally established statute of limitations could again sue the employing private institutions — predominantly Catholic schools in California.

However, S.B. 131 excluded public institutions from the reach-back provision, an extraordinary instance of unequal treatment of different institutions.

Catholic and other private institutions strongly opposed the bill, but the outcome remained uncertain until Brown handed down his decision on the second-to-last day to address measures passed by the state Legislature in September.

In his veto message, Brown pulled no punches: S.B. 131 “does not change a victim’s ability to sue a perpetrator. This bill also does not change the significant inequity that exists between private and public entities. What this bill does is go back to the only group, i.e., private institutions, that have already been subjected to the unusual ‘one-year revival period’ and makes them, and them alone, subject to suit indefinitely."

“This extraordinary extension of the statute of limitations, which legislators chose not to apply to public institutions, is simply too open-ended and unfair,” Brown said in vetoing the bill.

Selectively Targeting Catholic Institutions

Brown’s message details a decade of legislative and legal efforts targeting Catholic institutions while giving public entities a free pass.

In 2002, S.B. 1779 revived for one year (2003) the opportunity to file claims of sexual abuse that had lapsed because of the standard statute of limitations. As Brown pointed out, “This ‘one-year revival’ of passed claims allowed victims relief, but also set a defined cut-off time for these lapsed claims.”

Brown continued, “In reliance on the clear language and intent of this statute, the private third-party defendants covered by this bill took actions to resolve these legacy claims of victims older than 26,” which is the state standard for pupils to file claims for sexual abuse in their school years.

In his veto, Brown pointed out that more than “1,000 claims were filed against the Catholic Church alone, some involving alleged abuse as far back as the 1930s. By 2007, the Catholic Church in California had paid out more than $1.2 billion to settle the claims filed during this one-year revival period,” with other non-government entities paying many other claims.

“For the public third parties covered by this bill, however, a very different result occurred,” Brown noted. The governor said that, “due to a drafting error, the California Supreme Court held in 2007 that S.B. 1779 did not actually apply to public or governmental agencies. So, unlike private institutions, public schools and government entities were shielded from the one-year revival of lapsed claims. As a result, the similarly situated victims of these entities were not accorded the remedies of S.B. 1997.”

The Catholic community mounted a strong effort to head off S.B. 131, but the measure received key support from trial lawyers, many of whom had gained huge settlements in the 2003 open window.

by AL DONNER 10/14/2013

National Catolic Register

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