NEW YORK (NY)
New York Daily News
August 8, 2021
By MICHAEL GARTLAND and DENIS SLATTERY
The window to file lawsuits under New York State’s Child Victims Act will come to a close later this month, but until a few weeks ago, David Ferrick didn’t know that the law enabling victims of sexual assault to sue even existed.
Ferrick, 52, learned about it last month in Fresno, California — thousands of miles away from his childhood home in Brooklyn, where he attended St. Cecilia’s Roman Catholic Church in Greenpoint and where he says in a newly filed lawsuit that a priest there molested him when he was just a 10-year-old altar boy.
The priest, Father Patrick Sexton, was already the subject of another victim’s accusations when Ferrick was contacted by a private eye working for the law firm handling those claims.
“I was shocked,” Ferrick said of the moment he learned he could still seek justice. “I thought the statute of limitations had come to a close.”
Because the alleged abuse took place more than 40 years ago, that was not an unreasonable conclusion to draw. The statute of limitations on such offenses for years prevented Ferrick, and others like him, from pursuing justice.
The Child Victims Act changed that.
The aim of the law, which Gov. Cuomo signed in February 2019, was to allow victims the chance to pursue their abusers even if the statute of limitations for their crimes had passed. It went into effect in August 2019 and included a deadline for victims to file their claims by August 2020.
Cuomo, who signed the bill into law in the Daily News’ newsroom after years of The News reporting on the issue, is now facing the prospect of impeachment over allegations that he also preyed on those weaker than himself and sexually harassed women working for him.
Due to COVID, the state has extended the window to file legal claims under the CVA twice, with the final deadline now extending until Aug. 14.
So far, more than 8,200 legal claims have been filed under the Child Victims Act in New York state, according to the state’s Office of Court Administration. Over the last week, at least 625 new claims have been filed.
Jeff Anderson, an attorney who specializes in child sex abuse claims, said last week that his law firm filed 100 cases the week before and expected to file close to that many by week’s end.
“It is all hands on deck,” he said.
Jennifer Freeman, a lawyer with the Marsh Law Firm, has been filing lawsuits under the CVA since it first went into effect and said that, with the window to file lawsuits now closing, her firm has seen a marked uptick in new claims over the last three months.
She remains concerned, though, that many victims are still unaware of the fact that they can pursue their abusers — and that they will soon no longer have that opportunity.
“The thing that worries me is: What about those people who do not live in the New York area?” she said. “If they have a claim, they have to call a child sex abuse lawyer right away.”
When Ferrick got the call from a private investigator working for the Marsh firm in July, at least two others had already made accusations and filed lawsuits against Sexton, according to Jason Amala, an attorney with the firm.
Ferrick said he’s struggled with the aftermath of his alleged abuse for years and told the Daily News that it wasn’t until recently that he felt he was in the proper emotional place to seek closure legally. He recalled that years ago he imagined what he’d do if he had the chance to confront Sexton one-on-one, but that until now, it didn’t go further than that.
When he was a 5th grader, Ferrick said, Sexton would drive him and his teammates to basketball games.
“Father Pat felt like someone you could trust,” he recalled.
It was around the same time that Ferrick became an altar boy, and his mother recommended he seek counseling from Sexton. The alleged abuse began during their first “session” after Sexton gave him a tour of the rectory.
As he alleges in the complaint, Ferrick claims the priest commented on how hot it was, then began removing his clothes and suggested that Ferrick follow suit. Sexton then suggested that the two “rest” in his bed, Ferrick claims.
“It just became really weird,” Ferrick told The News. “It was really hard to understand what was going on.”
According to his complaint — which was filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court and names Sexton, the Brooklyn Diocese, St. Cecilia’s and the Christian Brothers as defendants, the abuse included Sexton “fondling David’s genitals … asking David to remove his clothing … [and] sexually blowing air down David’s underwear onto David’s genitals.”
Sexton did not immediately return calls. Adriana Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Brooklyn Diocese, said that the diocese “takes all allegations of sexual abuse very seriously and has significant protocols in place to protect minors,” but she declined comment on Ferrick’s lawsuit.
Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) said she is proud that she spent more than a decade fighting to pass the CVA, noting that it has made a difference for survivors seeking justice and accountability.
“People are still filing, and it shows the emotional burden that is on survivors to dredge up everything, prepare evidence, go through the pain again to get justice in the courts,” she said.
Rosenthal said she’s hopeful that the Legislature will act next session on the Adult Survivors Act, which would open a similar civil look-back window for victims who were abused when they were older than 18.
The stigma surrounding what Ferrick claims happened led him to compartmentalize. It took years, he said, to tell his wife.
Now, Ferrick, who attended Murry Bergtraum High School and eventually pursued a career in computer science in California, has five children of his own and a grandson. Aside from the closure he’s seeking, he hopes his lawsuit will help protect kids and prompt childhood friends who may have experienced the same thing he alleges in the complaint to come forward.
“I cannot say for 100% certainty, but there’s always been a lot of rumors,” he said of old friends who may have been abused. “I hope my friends get the help that they need and tell their stories.”
Michael Gartland covers the New York City Housing Authority, housing and homelessness. During his 20-year career, he’s covered politics, crime and religion for The Record in NJ, The Post and Courier in SC and Newsday, among others. His work has earned local and national journalism awards. He lives in Upper Manhattan with his wife and two children.
Denis Slattery covers New York State politics as the Daily News’ Albany