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New Jersey Governor Signs Law Lifting Charity Shield

By KRYSTAL KNAPP, Staff Writer
The Times of Trenton
Friday, January 06, 2006

TRENTON - Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey signed a bill yesterday that allows victims of childhood sex abuse to sue churches, schools and other nonprofit organizations for their employees' misconduct.

The new law, described by some state legislators as one of the most important bills they have ever considered, removes the long-standing state shield for charities known as charitable immunity in cases of sex abuse.

The state statute of limitations still applies. Suits must be filed within two years of the victim's 18th birthday or within two years of the incident's discovery.

New Jersey is the 48th state to allow victims of childhood sex abuse to sue nonprofit groups for the actions of their staff. The only other states that give charities total protection from civil lawsuits are Alabama and Tennessee.

Codey spokesman Sean Darcy said the governor has been a strong supporter of the bill because it offers, among other things, "increased protection for our children, our most vulnerable citizens."

Codey's office praised Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Woodbridge, for his leadership, saying Vitale's efforts were instrumental in getting the bill passed.

The bill was opposed by the Roman Catholic Church and the New Jersey Bar Association, who both lobbied heavily against it.

Victim advocacy groups and survivors of sex abuse have been pushing for a change in the law since 1999. They stepped up their efforts during the past year with letter-writing campaigns and commercials and were thrilled to hear the bill finally became law.

"I'm elated that the state lawmakers and governor have seen fit to restore justice to those abused as children," said Bayonne native Mark Crawford, a leader in the effort to have the law changed. "The new law gives an incentive to all institutions to be held accountable for their actions and protect children from harm."

"It's a victory for all the children of New Jersey," said John Hardwicke Jr., a Maryland graphic artist who has been fighting for the right to sue the American Boychoir School in Princeton Township. Hardwicke alleges he was repeatedly abused at the school. He has been fighting five years and his case has been pending before the state Supreme Court for more than a year.

"I hope the Boychoir School and the Catholic church will become better institutions because they will be holding themselves accountable," said Hardwicke who also thanked Vitale and Assemblyman Neil Cohen, D-Roselle, for their efforts to see the new law become a reality.

"It's been a very long process for the victims," Vitale said. "They have suffered for so long, so many years, and justice has now finally been served. This has been much more about a recognition of the sins of past and protecting children going forward than what some would say is just about money or revenge. It has been a life-changing experience we hope will help to ease the victims' suffering." NOTE: Contact Krystal Knapp at kknapp@njtimes.com or at (609) 989-5707.

© 2006 The Times of Trenton


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
www.snapnetwork.org