|Calvert Hall President Opposes Extending Statute of Limitations on Lawsuits
By Bryan P. Sears
February 19, 2008
A bill that would extend the statute of limitations on sexual abuse lawsuits is drawing opposition from the head of Calvert Hall College high school.
Del. Eric Bromwell, a Democrat, is sponsoring a bill that would give people alleging sexual abuse more time for filing lawsuits.
Opposing the bill is Brother Benedict Oliver, the president of Calvert Hall, which has not been immune to the allegations of child sexual abuse that have hit the Catholic Church nationwide.
Bromwell, who graduated from Calvert Hall in 1994, said people who are abused "should be able to seek justice."
The bill does not target any religious institution, but Bromwell, who represents the 8th District, including Perry Hall, Parkville and Overlea, said the only open opposition has come from Catholic organizations and institutions, including Calvert Hall.
Bromwell said he has nothing but positive feelings about his time at the school.
"I love my experience at Calvert Hall and encourage young people to attend," he said. "But there were people there when I was who were convicted of abuse. I knew people who were abused at Calvert Hall."
Bromwell co-sponsored a similar bill three years ago. The lead sponsor of that measure has since retired and Bromwell said he wanted to continue to champion the issue.
Under current law, alleged victims have seven years from the day they turn 18 years old to file a civil suit charging sexual abuse.
Bromwell's bill would extend the deadline to 32 years or age 50.
Additionally, other alleged victims, regardless of age, would have until Dec. 31, 2009, to file a certificate of merit with the court. The certificate would have to include a statement from the alleged victim's attorney and a psychiatrist or psychologist who reviewed the case and concluded there was a reasonable cause for filing the suit.
The bill would also cap damages at $1 million plus legal expenses.
Oliver has e-mailed several former and current Calvert Hall students about the bill. He did not return a call from a reporter seeking comment.
About a month ago, Oliver and a lobbyist for the Archdiocese of Baltimore met with Bromwell and asked him not to sponsor the bill, the delegate said.
Shortly after that meeting, the e-mail campaign began. In one such message, Oliver encouraged recipients to call Bromwell and Democratic Sen. Jim Brochin, who represents the Towson area, and ask them not to sponsor such a bill.
Oliver wrote that Bromwell and Brochin believe "that the resulting multiple lawsuits will provide justice to the victims."
Brochin, who has sponsored many sex abuse-related bills since he was elected in 2002, said he was not going to sponsor a bill to lengthen the statute of limitations — but not because of lobbying from Calvert Hall students and alumni.
Brochin said he was asked by the bill's supporters to not cross-file it in the Senate in order to test how much support the bill would receive in the House.
"I support the bill and would vote for it if it makes it to the Senate," said Brochin, adding that a few people had contacted his office to ask him not to sponsor such legislation.
Oliver, in his e-mail, wrote that "attempts to provide justice, compassion and healing to individuals actually and allegedly abused by employees of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and/or Calvert Hall have already been made."
Oliver wrote that each victim has received apologies from both the school and the "highest administrators of the archdiocese."
He added that victims were "offered, and several have accepted, funding for unlimited counseling by a professional of their choosing."
Oliver said that victims also were offered arbitration with a non-Catholic judge to arrive at financial settlements that included the payment of the victim's legal fees.
It is not clear how many victims there are or how many accepted such offers.
In 2006, Jerome Toohey, a former priest and head chaplain at Calvert Hall, was convicted of sexually abusing two boys including Thomas Roberts, an anchor for CNN. Normally, newspapers to not publish the names of sexual abuse victims, but Roberts and the other victim, Michael Goles, spoke publicly about their cases.
Toohey, 61 and a resident of Lutherville, was sentenced to 5 years in jail with all but 18 months suspended.
Roberts said the sentence brought him a sense of relief.
"I'm at peace," he said at the time. "People can learn. To live in the truth is really nice."
Oliver, in his e-mail, wrote that lengthening the time for filing lawsuits alleging sexual abuse could have dire financial consequences for the school.
"Because insurance coverage at the time of the abuse (at least 15 years ago) was typically limited, Calvert Hall could not now absorb the costs of multiple lawsuits and jury-awarded damages," Oliver wrote.
"Besides raising tuition beyond usual percentages, Calvert Hall undoubtedly would have to reduce or eliminate tuition assistance and curtail or eliminate some academic and extracurricular programs. Such measures would result in a severe, perhaps fatal, decline in enrollment," Oliver added.
Bromwell said he has been the focus of comments in sermons at area Catholic churches and the issue has tested his faith.
"It's been very difficult over the last three years," he said. "I've heard from victims about how much this would help. I've heard from opponents that this does nothing to help victims and does nothing to protect kids. In this scenario, I'm going to have to listen to the victims."
E-mail political editor Bryan P. Sears at email@example.com
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