N.J. Assembly Panel Approves Bill Abolishing 2-year Time Limit for Sex Abuse Lawsuits

By Susan K. Livio
June 14, 2012


A view of the statehouse dome in Trenton.

Todd Kostrub said his seventh birthday was "a big deal" because that was the day he became an altar boy, just like all his classmates at Holy Assumption Elementary School in Roebling.

But later that day, a priest led him to a back room and told him to take off his clothes. "I asked why. He said, ĎYouíre becoming an altar boy. This is part of the procedure,í" said Kostrub, 47, who solemnly described to the Assembly Judiciary Committee in Trenton Thursday the sexual abuse he endured until he turned 18. "I was so confused and shook up I went home and climbed into a closet and stayed there for 10 hours."

When Kostrub was 31 and ready to tell his story, he learned New Jersey law set a maximum of two years to sue from the point victims realize sexual abuse has damaged them. The law prevented him from suing the priest and the church leaders who protected him.

The Surf City resident was one of more than a dozen victims of childhood sexual abuse who begged the committee to approve a bill (A2405) that would allow them to file suit no matter how much time has passed, against individuals and institutions ó public, private, for-profit and non-profit. The committee cleared the bill 5-2.

"I beg of you ó imagine your child, your relative, or any child you know being raped by a pedophile. Now imagine them becoming an adult and being told the criminal who perpetrated this heinous act, and others who assisted him, concealed him and protected him will never face any consequences," Kostrub said. "This is my reality every day of my life."

New Jersey would join 10 other states eliminating the two-year time limits on civil lawsuits if the full Legislature approves the bill and Gov. Chris Christie signs it into law, according to Marci Hamilton, a Yeshiva University law professor. "What we have in New Jersey is overwhelming silence and a law that protects predators," Hamilton said.

But Pat Brannigan, executive director for the New Jersey Catholic Conference, which represents the stateís bishops, said the law would lead to an onslaught of lawsuits that would drain church coffers. "It would be a windfall for lawyers ... and will not help a single child."

Brannigan assured the committee that church leaders in New Jersey have overseen the training of 150,000 adults who come into contact with children, rewritten rules that guide church leaders in every diocese how to handle complaints, and educated 200,000 on how to identify abuse.

Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex) a sponsor of the Senate bill, expected to be taken up by the full upper house on Monday, acknowledged the churchís efforts to protect children from future harm, but said it isnít enough. "The church has found redemption at the expense of thousands of children who have been abused. Thatís why we are here today," he said.

Stacy Fannin, 43 of Trenton, who revealed he has been raped by three priests as a child, said he sees a counselor and takes three kinds of medication to help calm his nightmares and treat his depression. But itís not enough to make him feel whole.

"Itís not just about money," he said. "Itís about closure. We need this."








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