Alaska committee OKs bill for sex crime lawsuits
Plan seeks to open window for civil cases against
A bill that would create a one-year window for lawsuits against
perpetrators of decades-old childhood sex crimes passed the Senate
Judiciary Committee on Monday, despite concerns voiced by an attorney
representing Alaska Jesuits.
| David Clohessy, left, national director
of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, speaks Monday
with Caren Robinson at the Capitol after Clohessy gave his testimony
to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
PHOTO BY BRIAN WALLACE, JUNEAU EMPIRE.
Senators gave greater weight to the victims' accounts of their
suffering than to the assertion from Anchorage attorney Jim Gorski
that the proposal is "a matter best left to the law as it currently
exists in the state."
"The goal of this bill is to get access to the truth for the
victims," said Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, would temporarily
remove the statute of limitations for lawsuits that are currently
barred by time constraints. It would affect incidents that happened
before 2001, when lawmakers ended the statute of limitations for
criminal charges and lawsuits stemming from child sex crimes.
Gorski argued that the statute of limitations has been called vital
by the U.S. Supreme Court. He said courts have recognized that adjudication
becomes less reliable with the passage of time.
Though California passed a similar one-year window, other states
have declined because of a "recognition there's a threat to
the legal process," he said.
Other problems arise when cases are presented about incidents that
happened so long ago that the perpetrators have died. Of the numerous
cases against the Jesuits, there were 15 identifiable perpetrators,
he said. Ten of them are dead, some for several decades, which has
made it difficult to disprove allegations.
He said the church has offered to pay for counseling for victims,
though "it's a question of finding a just result."
"At the end of the day ... it's a question of dollars,"
A victim of childhood sexual abuse then testified, having flown
to Juneau from St. Louis, Mo., for the sake of appearing for a few
minutes before the committee.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those
Abused by Priests, said there are hundreds and perhaps thousands
of people who were molested as children and have no legal recourse.
The bill would provide a way to get the truth.
"This civil window is the single most effective way to prevent
further abuse," Clohessy said.
Ken Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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