Judge: Extended Statute of Limitations in Sex Cases Unconstitutional

ABC7 TV [Chicago IL]
August 24, 2004

A Cook County judge has determined that the law that extends the period of time a person can file charges for past abuse is unconstitutional. The Childhood Sexual Abuse Act was amended last summer to give victims more time to bring legal action against their abusers.

It extended the statute of limitations from two to ten years after the accuser turns eighteen. But the amendment leaves a gray area: whether the extension was intended to deal with claims already made. One judge gave her opinion

For the first time, a judge ruled on a new state law. On Tuesday Cook County Circuit Court Judge Diane Joan Larsen said an extended statute of limitations on child abuse claims does not apply because the cases were previously filed.

"The court finds no express legislative intent to have the statute applied retroactively to revive a previously barred cause of action," said Judge Larsen.

Barbara Blaine is with the Survivors Network of those abused by priests. The lawsuits in question were brought by two men who claim to have been abused by a religious order priest. The lawsuits were pending when the statute of limitations became law. Blaine says the extension was designed for such a claim. "Judge Larsen's decision is disappointing. The survivors and victims from across Illinois worked really hard to have this statute extended and we believed that the language was clear ," said Barbara Blaine, Survivors Network.

State representative Jim Brosnahan sponsored the bill. ABC 7 spoke with him by phone.

"We want them to have their day in court. And that's why, you know, i do believe it should be applied retroactively but again, not the cases where victims have been to court and where a judge or court has ruled that the statute of limitations has run. We're not trying to revive those causes of action ," said Brosnhan - intended to be retroactive

"We will go back to Springfield, Judge Larsen says that the language is not clear. The framers of that legislation were clear in their intent," said Blaine.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago is named in the lawsuits - although the accused priest in not Diocesan. A spokesperson for the archdiocese says it does not oppose the statute of limitations extension, but does object to the law being used retroactively. Judge Larsen did not rule on the constitutionality of the new law. That is expected to be challenged at some point.


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