NY Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan’s old firm represents diocese that wants to keep limits on abuse lawsuits

By Kenneth Lovett (NY Daily News)
May 24, 2016

ALBANY — Maybe that’s why state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan is more concerned about the rights of the predators than justice for victims.

Flanagan, a key roadblock to a bill that would make it easier for child sex abuse victims to seek justice, has ties to a law firm that represents a Long Island Catholic diocese that vehemently opposes statute of limitations reform, the Daily News has learned.

Flanagan (R-Suffolk County) until last year served as “of counsel” at Forchelli, Curto, Deegan, Schwartz, Mineo & Terrana in Uniondale.

The firm on its website lists as one of its clients the Diocese of Rockville Centre. A grand jury in 2003 accused the diocese, which has parishes in Nassau and Suffolk counties, of protecting pedophile priests.

The law firm also represents several of the diocese’s affiliates, including Catholic Health Services, St. Francis Hospital and Mercy Medical Center.

And firm partner Anthony Curto has served on the board of directors for Telecare, the diocese’s Long Island-based television and production facility.

Though Flanagan left the firm shortly before becoming Senate majority leader in May 2015, a lawyer who represents abuse victims says Flanagan has a conflict when it comes to the Child Victims Act. “It’s a real matter of conscience whether or not he feels he can deprive these victims of terrible sexual abuse of their day in court with his old firm having represented the diocese,” said attorney Michael Dowd.

Flanagan spokesman Scott Reif said the majority leader was unaware his old firm represented the Diocese of Rockville Centre until asked about it by The News on Tuesday.

“The insinuation that he’s holding up the bill because of it is absolutely untrue,” Reif said, adding that “every issue is considered on the merits.”

Flanagan in his state ethics filing for 2014 reported having made between $100,000 and $150,000 at the firm in his last full year there.

In describing the work he did in the filing, Flanagan said he provided direct services to clients in the areas of real estate and land use. He also reported that he referred corporate, trust and estate matters to the firm while also providing it with advice related to wills.

Flanagan served in the Assembly for 16 years before being elected to the state Senate in 2002.

Dowd, who has an ongoing priest abuse case against the Diocese of Rockville Centre, said it doesn’t matter that Flanagan is no longer at the firm or may not have handled cases involving the church.

“The fact that they represented the diocese when he was there is a conflict,” Dowd said. “There is nothing more fundamental to the diocese than keeping the money in their pocket.”

Representatives of Flanagan’s old firm and the diocese did not return calls for comment.

Diocese Bishop William Murphy has been a loud opponent of a measure that would extend or eliminate the statute of limitations pertaining to child sex abuse cases while also opening up a one-year window for those who can no longer sue under current law to bring civil cases.

Murphy had been linked to the widespread priest abuse coverups in Boston, where he worked as a high-ranking priest. He has denied protecting pedophile priests.

He began his time at the Diocese of Rockville Centre in 2001. Two years later, the diocese was hit with a bombshell report from a Suffolk County grand jury that found “the history of the Diocese of Rockville Centre demonstrates that as an institution they are incapable of properly handling issues relating to the sexual abuse of children by priests.”

Around 2004, the diocese acknowledged knowing that 66 of its priests were accused of abusing children, according to Channel 4 New York. It never made those priests’ names public.

With 10 session days left until the scheduled end of the June 16 legislative calendar, time is running short to address the Children’s Victims Act.

In a statement to The News last week, Flanagan for the first time said there are bills addressing child sex abuse issues that he is prepared to support. None are believed to contain the one-year window sought by advocates that allows adults who were abused as kids but can no longer sue under current law to bring a civil case.

The Senate Republicans on Monday blocked a push by Democrats to force a vote on a bill by Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) that would eliminate the criminal and civil statute of limitations pertaining to child sex abuse cases, create the one-year window and treat public and private entities the same when it comes to abuse cases.

Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) has not said whether his Democratic conference will bring any bill addressing the child sex abuse issue to the floor for a vote before the end of the legislative session.