Palma Sex Abuse Lawsuits May Not Go Forward after Brown Vetoes Bill

By Paul Elias
The Associated Press
October 12, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO — Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill Saturday that would have allowed some sex abuse victims who are now barred by the statute of limitations to file lawsuits against private institutions that employed their abusers.

Nine people who say they were abused by priests while attending Palma High School in Salinas were among those who planned to sue if the bill had gone into effect.

Brown said he vetoed Senate Bill 131 because it unfairly expanded on a similar measure passed in 2002 amid the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal.

The current bill from Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, would have lifted the statute of limitations for a group of alleged victims who are 26 or older and missed the previous window to file lawsuits because of time and age restrictions.

Catholic Church leaders, including the Diocese of Monterey, and representatives of other organizations in opposition, such as private schools and the State Alliance of YMCAs, said the proposal to allow claims is unfair because it does not allow accusers to sue public institutions. Brown agreed.

"This extraordinary extension of the statute of limitations, which legislators chose not to apply to public institutions, is simply too open-ended and unfair," Brown said in his veto message.

Abuse victims can still file lawsuits against their abusers, Brown said.

Assembly Republicans tried to amend the bill to include schools, universities and other public institutions but were defeated. They said the bill would not provide equal justice unless all victims of childhood abuse can seek relief, regardless of where their abuser was employed.

Furthermore, Brown said in his veto message that statutes of limitations are in place for a reason.

"There comes a time when an individual or organization should be secure in the reasonable expectation that past acts are indeed in the past and not subject to further lawsuits," Brown wrote in his veto message.

The California Catholic Conference said it was "grateful" Brown vetoed the bill.

"It was unfair to the vast majority of victims and unfair to all private and nonprofit organizations," said the Rev. Gerald Wilkerson, president of the conference. He said the church has paid $1.2 billion to settle more than 1,000 cases.

The National Center for Victims of Crime, which sponsored the bill, and other supporters say victims might take years to acknowledge they were molested.

The Consumer Attorneys of California organization said it was "disappointed" with the veto.

"This measure was narrowly tailored and would have greatly helped victims of childhood sexual abuse who need and deserve to have their day in court," said the group's president, Brian Kabateck.

Alleged childhood abuse victims currently can file a lawsuit in California until they are 26 years old.

Seven of the nine former Palma students say they were sexually assaulted by the Rev. Gerald Funcheon when he was a chaplain at the school from 1984-85. Funcheon, who is still a priest but is housed in a secure "treatment" facility, admitted in sworn testimony last year that he molested one of the men, but denied the others.

The two other alleged victims say they were molested by Brother Marcos Chavira and the late Brother Jerome Heustis.


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