Staten Island Advance [Staten Island NY]
August 30, 2021
By Joseph Ostapiuk
A WINDOW CLOSED. AN ISLAND CHANGED. This story is the third piece in a four-part series examining the impact of the Child Victims Act.
Part 1:These 5 Staten Island institutions, figures may never be the same again | Part 2:What’s next for the Catholic church? Devoted parishioners, veteran priest share thoughts after Child Victims Act.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The Child Victims Act, a historic open window that allowed sex-abuse survivors to file civil suits against alleged abusers without statute of limitations restrictions, sent seismic waves across Staten Island that undermined the confidence in beloved institutions and cast a pall over numerous influential and revered figures on the borough.
Thousands of cases later, the window officially closed on Aug. 14, 2021 and set eyes forward on an extraordinary fallout that could have significant financial implications and leave victims waiting for closure.
Experts and lawyers representing thousands of clients are bracing for an extended battle that some expect to take years to resolve.
“We’ve got a backlog in the court system,” said attorney James R. Marsh, whose office handled numerous Staten Island Child Victims Act cases. “It’s going to be a long process for a lot of folks. Unfortunately, that’s how the system works.”
The infancy stages of that process — filing allegations in court — have now ceased two years after the “look-back” window opened in August of 2019. Now, the cases submitted throughout the five boroughs will go across the desk of a single judge: Justice George J. Silver of New York County Supreme Court.
As the presiding judge over pre-trial discovery in connection to any Child Victims Act case in New York City, Silver will coordinate the exchange of information between parties. Lawyers believe coordinating all cases through Silver (and other judges for different areas of New York) will maximize the efficiency of handling the massive caseload left in the wake of the act.
“They’re doing it the right way, and they’ve assigned it to all very good and experienced judges in managing both complex and large numbers of cases,” said Jeff Anderson, of the Jeff Anderson & Associates law firm. “They’re all really well equipped and involved and really rigorous and attentive in realizing the magnitude of this mission that everybody has.”
Not every case will go to trial. Some could be settled before Silver and others embark on the litigation process.
The cases that do go to trial will return to the county where they were filed, and some could be resolved through alternate dispute resolution, an option that includes out-of-court processes that redress conflict and potentially uses mediation.
“What we know is that the state court system has never seen anything quite like this,” said Anderson, “and I can only predict that there is a lot of work to do.”
The financial implications of the window have been immense.
The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) filed for bankruptcy and later proposed an $850 million settlement with attorneys representing around 70,000 victims of child sex abuse. But, all parties have not signed on to the agreement and that amount, which would be among the nation’s largest settlements in a sex abuse case, is not yet concrete.
Under that agreement, the BSA said it would contribute $250 million in cash and property that would go to a fund for victims while local councils would contribute the remaining $600 million.
Four of the state’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses have also filed for bankruptcy, partially as a result of the litigation. The Diocese of Rockville Centre said the litigation left it with a strong financial burden when it became the largest United States diocese to file for reorganization.
With thousands of cases still awaiting closure, experts contend the potential for more fiscal fallout is possible.
“I know the Catholic church generally has set aside a large fund to pay for historical cases of sexual abuse,” said Elizabeth Jeglic, professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “So, I think when it’s all said and done, we’ll have to see what cases are put forward and what ultimately results, but I wouldn’t take it off the table.”
Bankruptcy allows dioceses to combine the victims’ lawsuits and make a single negotiation to reach a settlement. With the window now closed, lawyers said it is possible more resolutions are reached now that defendants know the full extent of claims they are facing.
Additionally, the Archdiocese of New York, which was among the institutions hardest hit by the act, in 2019 unveiled a list of more than 100 clergy credibly accused of sex abuse or possessing child pornography, including some who served on Staten Island.
The Archdiocese established the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program to review claims by individuals not previously reported to the Archdiocese and compensate survivors of abuse by its priests and deacons.“Whatever financial pain the church suffers as a result of this crisis pales in comparison to the life-altering suffering of survivors.”Dennis Poust, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference
“Whatever financial pain the church suffers as a result of this crisis pales in comparison to the life-altering suffering of survivors,” said Dennis Poust, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference.
Still, Poust noted the Child Victims Act will have significant fiscal implications for the Catholic church after half of the state’s dioceses filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
He said “serious challenges across the board” are expected, with bishops currently focused “on resolving the civil claims in a way that satisfies survivors, while at the same time preserving the charitable, educational and sacramental ministries of the church, on which millions of New Yorkers depend.”
“At the same time, they’re committed to ensuring that such horrific evil never again finds its way into our church,” said Poust.“I think it’s going to be years in many cases.”Elizabeth Jeglic, professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice
CHALLENGES FOR VICTIMS
Spanning back decades, the historical nature of some Child Victims Act cases will present challenges that could — coupled with a backlog caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic — make the next steps for litigation time-consuming and arduous.
Some cases filed during the Child Victims Act on Staten Island span back to the 1940s. Perpetrators named in select court documents have died, and experts said the passage of time could create difficulties for cases that reach trial.
“I think it’s going to be years in many cases,” Jeglic said on the time needed to conclude cases given the impediments, adding that a lack of evidence and the alleged perpetrator’s death will undoubtedly make resolution laborious.
Survivors have expressed frustration and disdain for delays in holding institutions responsible for abuse accountable. Lawyers contend institutional defendants further delaying cases, purposefully or not, will aid the defense as plaintiffs die and witnesses’ memories fade.
“I’m not saying people are deliberately doing this, (but) the reality is delay in the law is always a good thing for the defense,” said Marsh.
The Archdiocese declined an interview for this story, stating that the body cannot discuss specifics of any lawsuits filed under the Child Victims Act or any matters associated with cases while they are still pending or in litigation, according to spokesman Joseph Zwilling.
Outside of the text filed in court and the typical, often taxing, steps of a trial, lawyers expressed solemnity that some defendants might need to wait years to see conclusion.