By Kenneth Lovett (New York Daily News)
June 5, 2017
ALBANY — The head of a group of breakaway state Senate Democrats has introduced a compromise bill he hopes can lead to passage this year of a Child Victims Act in New York.
Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx) said his version of the bill would “give every person victimized by a sexual predator their day in both civil and criminal court.”
Recognizing the biggest roadblock to the passage of a bill has long been the push to create a one-year window to review old cases that can no longer be brought under current law, Klein’s bill would create a Child Victims Commission to examine, evaluate and make binding recommendations on time-barred civil claims within a one-year window to determine if they could move forward.
If a majority of the commission finds in favor of a survivor, that person can then file a civil lawsuit for damages within a year window.
The panel would consist of five members — at least one of whom must be a former district attorney or assistant DA and at least one other a defense attorney. The five members would be appointed by the state’s chief judge.
“It’s a very important issue, but there never seems to be closure,” Klein said. "I think the solution I came up with is a smart approach to finally getting closure."
He said the idea of the commission is to screen cases that are barred from proceeding to trial to make sure they’re not frivolous lawsuits and allowing legitimate ones to proceed.
“I think this is what some people are concerned about — that they’ll be just a flood of lawsuits,” Klein said. "Some will have merit. Others won't. This is an important measure to determine the validity of each one of these cases.”
Except for the commission, Klein’s bill mirrors one introduced by Sen. Brad Hoylman, the Manhattan Democrat who has sponsored the Child Victims Act preferred by survivors.
Like Hoylman’s bill, Klein’s would also eliminate the legal timeframes that criminal and civil child sexual abuse cases can be brought moving forward.
Under current law, such cases can only be brought up until a victim’s 23rd birthday.
It would also treat public and private institutions the same when it comes to child sex abuse cases, doing away with the requirement that a victim in a public setting file a notice of intent to sue within just 90 days of the incident occurring.
Gary Greenberg, an upstate investor and child sex abuse survivor, said he supports Klein’s bill.
“I think it’s a good way to go,” Greenberg said. “And it may be the ticket to finally getting the bill through the Senate.”
Other survivors and those on their side say they appreciate Klein and his Independent Democratic Conference trying to get something done, but said a commission would merely set up another hurdle victims have to get through that victims of other crimes do not.
“It’s a solution in search of a problem," said advocate Marci Hamilton, who said studies show that false claims brought by child abuse survivors are few.
Child sex abuse survivor Kathryn Robb argued that there is no need for a commission since a victim bringing lawsuits would have to prove his or her case to a jury.
“Don’t re-victimize the victims and treat them different than any other victims,” Robb said.
On the other side, the state Catholic Conference headed by Timothy Cardinal Dolan also was skeptical about the creation of a commission that would allow old cases to be revived for a year.
“We would certainly review the bill, but we believe that there are many possible unintended consequences of a window in any form,” Catholic Conference spokesman Dennis Poust said.
Poust praised state Senate Republicans, which has long blocked passage of a Child Victims Act, for considering such potential consequences, including how massive payouts could not only impact the Church, but also "the people we service in our schools and our Catholic Charities programs."
Poust said his organization believes there is plenty that can be done to address the situation "prospectively," including the elimination of the statute of limitations pertaining to criminal child sex abuse cases.
The Klein bill comes at a time when the Assembly Democrats are prepared this week to pass their own version of the Child Victims Act that would increase the timeframe to bring criminal and civil cases by five years, create a one-year window to revive old cases, and treat public and private institutions equally.
The legislative session is set to end June 21.
Meanwhile, about 100 child sex abuse survivors marched across the Brooklyn Bridge Sunday to push Albany legislators to pass the Child Victims Act.
“This is almost kind of like pride day for survivors. We get to come together and be seen and be heard,” said Melanie Blow of the Stop Abuse Campaign, which organized the march.