John Flanagan's Unholy Conflict on Statute of Limitations

By NY Daily News Editorial Team
May 25, 2016

While aggressively urging reforms to New York's statute of limitations on sexual abuse of minors, the Daily News recognizes that the issue raises concerns worthy of vigorous debate.

There is tension, for example, between the goal of enabling prosecutors and victims to file criminal or civil charges and the need to ensure that the passage of time does not prevent the accused from mounting defenses.

One legislator could believe that justice would be best served by permitting alleged childhood victims to file suits until they reach 35 years of age, while another's gut instinct could say that extending the statute from its present age of 23 should go no further than 28.

Those are judgments that members of the Legislature are elected to make honestly - without the taint or appearance of self-interest.

Daily News Albany Bureau Chief Ken Lovett reports today that Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan's former law firm is deeply enmeshed with representing various interests of the Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, which covers Long Island.

In 2003, the year Flanagan left the Assembly and began serving in the Senate , he became of counsel to Forchelli, Curto, Deegan, Schwartz, Mineo & Terrana as it opened an office in his home base of Suffolk County.

He remained associated with the firm until his elevation to majority leader after the arrest of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

During that time, Forchelli, Curto has counted - and still counts - among its clients the diocese itself, Catholic Health Services and Mercy Medical Center, a Catholic hospital. A partner was named to the board of Telecare, the diocesan TV network, in 2002.

Now, with statute of limitations bills, Flanagan is calling the shots in the Senate on legislation that would have a potentially large and direct impact on the fortunes of one of the firm's most prominent clients.

Depending on how bills are written, past abuses by priests could open the Rockville Centre diocese, and dioceses across the state, to costly lawsuits.

Under these circumstances, Flanagan cannot be trusted as an honest broker. To avoid a real or apparent conflict of interest, he must allow all versions of statute of limitations reform bills to come to the floor in the Senate.

He must abandon the Senate majority's standard procedure of fashioning legislation behind closed doors and permitting only certain bills to reach the floor.

The New York Catholic Conference supports eliminating the criminal statute of limitations on certain future sex crimes and raising the statute of limitation on future civil suits to 28. At the same time, the Conference opposes a measure that would give past victims, who are presently time barred, one year to file suit for past alleged abuse.

"This extraordinary provision would force institutions to defend alleged conduct decades ago about which they have no knowledge, and in which they had no role, potentially involving employees long retired, dead or infirm, based on information long lost, if it ever existed," the Conference has written.

As stated before, it's a fair argument - although one that rejects trust in the court system to weed out unprovable claims while placing monetary interests over the moral debts to genuine victims.

Flanagan has not declared where he stands on that or any other proposed reform. Given his former firm's financial ties, he owes victims and every New Yorker unquestionably fair hearings on all proposals.

He must erase the taint of a conflict of interest by allowing each measure, including the so-called one-year look back, to come to an open, fully accountable vote.