EXCLUSIVE: NY Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan’s old firm represents diocese that wants to keep limits on abuse lawsuits
EXCLUSIVE: NY Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan’s old firm represents diocese that wants to keep limits on abuse lawsuits
ALBANY — Maybe that’s why state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan is more concerned about the rights of the predators than justice for victims.
Flanagan, a key roadblock to a bill that would make it easier for child sex abuse victims to seek justice, has ties to a law firm that represents a Long Island Catholic diocese that vehemently opposes statute of limitations reform, the Daily News has learned.
Flanagan (R-Suffolk County) until last year served as “of counsel” at Forchelli, Curto, Deegan, Schwartz, Mineo & Terrana in Uniondale.
The firm on its website lists as one of its clients the Diocese of Rockville Centre. A grand jury in 2003 accused the diocese, which has parishes in Nassau and Suffolk counties, of protecting pedophile priests.
The law firm also represents several of the diocese’s affiliates, including Catholic Health Services, St. Francis Hospital and Mercy Medical Center.
And firm partner Anthony Curto has served on the board of directors for Telecare, the diocese’s Long Island-based television and production facility.
Though Flanagan left the firm shortly before becoming Senate majority leader in May 2015, a lawyer who represents abuse victims says Flanagan has a conflict when it comes to the Child Victims Act. “It’s a real matter of conscience whether or not he feels he can deprive these victims of terrible sexual abuse of their day in court with his old firm having represented the diocese,” said attorney Michael Dowd.
Flanagan spokesman Scott Reif said the majority leader was unaware his old firm represented the Diocese of Rockville Centre until asked about it by The News on Tuesday.
“The insinuation that he’s holding up the bill because of it is absolutely untrue,” Reif said, adding that “every issue is considered on the merits.”
Flanagan in his state ethics filing for 2014 reported having made between $100,000 and $150,000 at the firm in his last full year there.
In describing the work he did in the filing, Flanagan said he provided direct services to clients in the areas of real estate and land use. He also reported that he referred corporate, trust and estate matters to the firm while also providing it with advice related to wills.
Flanagan served in the Assembly for 16 years before being elected to the state Senate in 2002.
Dowd, who has an ongoing priest abuse case against the Diocese of Rockville Centre, said it doesn’t matter that Flanagan is no longer at the firm or may not have handled cases involving the church.
“The fact that they represented the diocese when he was there is a conflict,” Dowd said. “There is nothing more fundamental to the diocese than keeping the money in their pocket.”
Representatives of Flanagan’s old firm and the diocese did not return calls for comment.
Diocese Bishop William Murphy has been a loud opponent of a measure that would extend or eliminate the statute of limitations pertaining to child sex abuse cases while also opening up a one-year window for those who can no longer sue under current law to bring civil cases.
Murphy had been linked to the widespread priest abuse coverups in Boston, where he worked as a high-ranking priest. He has denied protecting pedophile priests.
He began his time at the Diocese of Rockville Centre in 2001. Two years later, the diocese was hit with a bombshell report from a Suffolk County grand jury that found “the history of the Diocese of Rockville Centre demonstrates that as an institution they are incapable of properly handling issues relating to the sexual abuse of children by priests.”
Around 2004, the diocese acknowledged knowing that 66 of its priests were accused of abusing children, according to Channel 4 New York. It never made those priests’ names public.
With 10 session days left until the scheduled end of the June 16 legislative calendar, time is running short to address the Children’s Victims Act.
In a statement to The News last week, Flanagan for the first time said there are bills addressing child sex abuse issues that he is prepared to support. None are believed to contain the one-year window sought by advocates that allows adults who were abused as kids but can no longer sue under current law to bring a civil case.
The Senate Republicans on Monday blocked a push by Democrats to force a vote on a bill by Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) that would eliminate the criminal and civil statute of limitations pertaining to child sex abuse cases, create the one-year window and treat public and private entities the same when it comes to abuse cases.
Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) has not said whether his Democratic conference will bring any bill addressing the child sex abuse issue to the floor for a vote before the end of the legislative session.
EXCLUSIVE: Victim raped by upstate priest wants N.Y. to fix sex abuse statute
Kevin Braney went through hell in the basement of a church rectory.
Braney says he was a devout 15-year-old altar boy when Msgr. Charles Eckermann first raped him in a rectory storage room at St. Ann’s Church in Manlius, a suburb of Syracuse. Braney says Eckermann assaulted him at least a dozen times in 1988 and 1989 on a mattress the priest had stashed in the storage room.
“I was taught to trust and believe priests because they were the closest thing to God on Earth, and he told me if I defied him, I was defying God,” Braney said. “He said he had a divine right to abuse me.
“He told me he would put my genitals in a vise if I resisted,” added Braney, now an executive at a mental health agency in Boulder, Colo., and an advocate for sexual abuse victims. “He said he would kill me if I said anything.”
Eckermann, now 84, was defrocked and sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican in October 2014 after an investigator hired by the Diocese of Syracuse deemed Braney’s allegations credible. But Braney, 43, is unable to pursue criminal charges or civil litigation against Eckermann or the church because New York’s statute of limitations bars child sex abuse victims from proceeding with cases after their 23rd birthday.
That’s why Braney supports the Child Victims Act, a bill sponsored by Queens Assemblywoman Margaret Markey that would eliminate the statute of limitations in sex abuse cases and open a one-year window for victims of past sexual abuse to file civil suits.
“The best thing for the Catholic Church would be for the law to change and let justice run its course,” Braney said. “It would bring closure for the victims and their families and it would let the church move forward and heal the damage caused by the sex-abuse scandal.”
The Child Victims Act faces stiff opposition from the Catholic Church, including the Diocese of Syracuse, but diocesan spokeswoman Danielle Cummings called Braney “courageous” for speaking out about the abuse.
Church officials weren’t always so sympathetic, Braney said. When he finally found the guts to tell another priest about Eckermann’s abuse, the priest hit him in the face.
Church officials were reportedly put on notice about sexual misconduct by Eckermann, who served on the Syracuse board of education and was a high school teacher and principal, four years before he began abusing Braney.
Braney says he was also raped by another priest, the Rev. James Quinn, in 1989 during a rehearsal for his confirmation.
“He took me to a room in the rectory and raped me,” Braney said. “I was frozen. I was disconnected from my body. I just wanted it to end. I remember I focused on a clock. It was 4:23 in the afternoon.”
Eckermann could not be reached for comment. Quinn died in 2013.
Braney says he dealt with the internal demons unleashed by the sexual abuse by throwing himself into sports and his studies. He became a star lacrosse player at Brown University and moved to the Denver area, where he earned a doctorate in education at the University of Colorado. He later became the principal of Boulder High School.
Braney was working with teens who had been abused — when the memories he repressed for decades came flooding back about four years ago.
Braney’s pain became public in March 2013, when police were called to his home during an argument with his former wife. He told the Boulder cops who arrested him on suspicion of domestic violence that he was dealing with the stress that came from his abuse. The police told Braney — who later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for damaging property — to contact Syracuse-area prosecutors or police.
The Onondaga DA’s office investigated Braney’s claims, but prosecutors told Braney they could not file charges because the statute of limitations had expired.
Current Syracuse bishop Robert Cunningham has apologized to Braney for the abuse and the diocese has paid for therapy. But Braney wants more: He wants transparency. He wants the diocese to publicly identify clergy who also face credible allegations of abuse.
Cummings said the diocese is reluctant to do so because other victims who have come forward have asked to keep details of their abuse — including identities of the abusers — private.
Braney said that practice puts the responsibility for transparency on victims and survivors.
“It perpetuates the shame and secrecy,” Braney said. “Most of all it protects pedophiles.”
Loyola School on Upper East Side covered up teacher who molested seven girls in 1970s, 1980s — but victims can’t sue
Loyola School on Upper East Side covered up teacher who molested seven girls in 1970s, 1980s — but victims can’t sue
Despite Loyola’s admissions of Tambini’s sexual abuse, victims won’t be able to sue to learn what officials knew about it and how they responded to it.
Louis Tambini was a legendary figure at Loyola, a history teacher, coach and athletic director who worked at the small Catholic school on the Upper East Side for more than 30 years.
Tambini was also a creep who molested seven girls who attended the school in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Officials at the Jesuit-run school failed to notify authorities, parents or alumni when they learned about the sexual abuse allegations, according to a report commissioned by the current Loyola administration and prepared by the Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft law firm. But despite evidence that Loyola officials covered up the abuse for decades after they learned of the allegations in December 1982, the victims can’t file lawsuits against the school because New York’s statute of limitations expired decades ago.
The statute of limitations in New York, considered one of the strictest in the nation, bars sex abuse survivors from pursuing criminal charges or civil damages after their 23rd birthday.
“This report really does memorialize how an institution can use a strict and draconian loophole in New York State law to keep the matter quashed until the statute of limitations runs out,” said attorney Mike Reck, who represents one of the victims.
Barbara Dorris of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, meanwhile, said the damning Loyola report provides a cogent argument for why statute of limitations reform is necessary.
“This report is more proof that even now, Catholic officials work very hard — and usually with success — to keep child sex crimes and coverups covered up,” Dorris said. “That’s one reason why New York’s archaic, predator-friendly statute of limitations must be reformed and why every person who saw, suspected or suffered abuse and coverup should call secular authorities, not church officials.”
The six-page report issued April 15 and prepared by Cadwalader attorney Ken Wainstein and two associates concluded that Tambini, who died at age 70 in 1999, could have been prosecuted for sexual abuse. All of the incidents took place at the school; one of the girls was molested as Tambini taught a class.
“The actual abuse was generally similar in each instance,” the report said. “Each victim reported that Tambini approached her from behind and rubbed himself against her backside in a state of arousal.”
Loyola administrators learned about the abuse in December 1982, according to the report, when a freshman told two faculty members that Tambini had abused her. The parent of another girl also reported at that time that Tambini, a popular teacher who coached the school’s baseball, basketball and girls’ volleyball teams, had “inappropriately touched her.”
Tambini was fired — but he was allowed to continue teaching and coaching until the end of the 1982-1983 academic year. Administrators did not call the police or notify parents or alumni about the allegations. Some of the victims, the report said, were frustrated because Loyola officials continued to laud him publicly long after his dismissal. Tambini’s name continued to grace the school’s annual award for outstanding male athlete until just recently.
Current Loyola president Tony Oroszlany learned about the sexual abuse allegations against Tambini in April 2015 when one of the alleged victims posted about it on Facebook.
The Loyola School covered up Louis Tambini’s history of sexual abuse, long after he was fired — even keeping his name on an award given to outstanding male athletes.
The report says Oroszlany later discovered a letter written in the mid-2000s by one victim that described Tambini’s abuse and “the school’s inadequate and insensitive” response. An administrator forwarded the letter to police, but the cops declined to investigate because Tambini was dead. Loyola officials yet again failed to notify parents and alumni or issue a public statement seeking additional victims.
Loyola officials commissioned the Cadawalader investigation in May of last year. The school also provided funding to the victims for counseling and paid travel expenses for victims to meet with Wainstein and his investigators.
“From my perspective the current administration’s response to learning about this misconduct was an example of how every school should respond to sexual abuse allegations,” Wainstein said.
Despite Loyola’s admissions, the victims won’t be able to use the courts to learn what school officials knew about Tambini’s abuse and how they responded to it, Reck said. The victims won’t be able to pursue full disclosure without passage of the Child Victims Act, which would eliminate the statute of limitations in sexual abuse cases and open up a one-year window for older victims to pursue litigation.
“This is an investigation that could have and should have been done a decade earlier,” Reck said. “I think they are doing the right thing because of pressure from survivors and their advocates.”
Were you a victim of child sex abuse but couldn’t press charges or sue because of New York State’s statute of limitations? Tell us your story at : ProtectKids@NYDailyNews.com
Catholic Whistleblowers urge greater accountability on sex abuse crisis
By Journal Sentinelof the
From the link: http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/news/208528911.html
In its first public action Wednesday, a national network of Catholic clergy and nuns founded in part by a Milwaukee-area priest called on the church to take a stronger stand against child sexual abuse in its ranks.
Eight members of the Catholic Whistleblowers gathered for a news conference in New York, home to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who as head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is considered the most influential American prelate.
The group urged Dolan to use his influence to help oust Newark, N.J., Bishop John Myers, who has been in the news in recent weeks for allowing a pedophile priest continued access to minors, in violation of an agreement with prosecutors.
In addition, members called on Catholic bishops to:
Support proposed legislation in New York, Wisconsin and elsewhere, that would lift statutes of limitations on sex crimes against children. (A Wisconsin bill, known as the Child Victims Act, is expected to be re-introduced this legislative session.)
Adopt policies, similar to one in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, that protect priests, nuns and other church employees who report child sex abuse or cover-ups to civil authorities.
“The church has made strides; thousands of people have been trained in how to spot and report sex abuse. But all of that has to do with the future,” said the Rev. James Connell of Sheboygan, who has emerged in recent years as a vocal advocate for child sex abuse victims.
“But that doesn’t address the accountability, or the justice issues of the past,” he said. “Those issues are still at hand.”
A spokesman for Dolan said in an e-mail that the Archdiocese of New York has had a policy for years that encourages those with allegations of abuse to report them to civil authorities, and that here are no known abusers serving in the dioceses. He did not respond to questions about Myers or the statute-of-limitations legislation.
The group laid out its mission at a news conference at Cardozo Law School, which employs First Amendment scholar, Marci Hamilton, who has represented church victims in lawsuits across the country, including in Wisconsin.
Hamilton successfully argued the 2007 Wisconsin Supreme Court case that allows victims to sue religious entities under the state’s fraud statute — the basis of the 570-plus claims in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Bankruptcy. And she won a January ruling in the bankruptcy case that barred the archdiocese from using the First Amendment to keep up to $57 million in cemetery funds from being tapped for sex abuse settlements. That decision is on appeal to the U.S. District Court.
Connell is a founding member of the Whistleblowers, a group of like-minded mostly priests and nuns, brought together last year by the founders of BishopAccountability.org, a Boston-based non-profit that researches and posts information about the Catholic church’s response to sexual abuse.
Other members include well-known critics of the church’s handling of the sex abuse crisis, including Father Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer who alerted U.S. Catholic Bishops to the coming crisis in the 1980s; and Patrick Wall, a former Benedictine monk and “fixer,” who was sent by his order to clean up after abusive priests, and now consults for victims in lawsuits around the country.
New York May Ease Statute of Limitations for Decades-Old Child Sex Abuse Claims
Bill Would Ease Path to Court for Yeshiva U. Victims
By Paul Berger
Edited By Larry Cohler-Esses
Adults abused as children decades ago in New York could file civil lawsuits against their abusers and the institutions that employed them, if a national surge of legislative reform reaches Albany.
Advocates for child sex abuse victims say that this year, the prospects look good for a bill that sank four times previously following strong opposition from Catholic and ultra-Orthodox groups. If passed, the legislation could ease the way for a slew of lawsuits against Jewish and Catholic institutions accused of failing to report accounts of child sex abuse to law enforcement authorities.
“I’ve never been more optimistic we can succeed in 2013,” the bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, said.
Yeshiva University may also be casting a wary eye toward Albany as it continues to investigate a scandal involving abuse allegations first reported by the Forward and dating back four decades.
The bill, known as the Child Victims Act, still faces a real test in the state senate where a key Democrat, Jeffrey Klein, indicated he would not support it.
But, Markey said, the success of similar legislation in other states as well as a wave of similar bills being considered across the country this year gave her hope.
The statute of limitations sets a time limit within which victims of abuse must file civil claims against their alleged abusers or within which prosecutors must seek indictments against alleged perpetrators. The statute for civil and criminal charges varies state by state. In New York, those who claim they were abused as children must file a civil claim before their 23rd birthday. But many experts on child sexual abuse say it can take far longer than that for victims of such abuse to understand and confront what was done to them, and then resolve to go to court for redress, which can exacerbate already existing trauma.
This year, a dozen states are considering — or have already passed — legislation that extends or lifts time limits for abuse victims to file civil suits against individuals or institutions culpable for their abuse, or for prosecutors to pursue criminal cases. The legislation covers only sexual abuse cases occurring from the present day onwards, so some states are also considering bills that would open up a brief window for retroactive claims.
Arkansas eliminated the criminal statute of limitations for sexual abuse in February. Meanwhile, bills are pending in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and California, among other states, that would extend or eliminate the statute of limitations in criminal or civil cases. Some of these include so-called window legislation. A bill that would eliminate the civil statute of limitations is expected to be introduced in the New Jersey legislature soon.
“This is the most activity ever,” said Marci Hamilton, chair of public law at Y.U.’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and one of the nation’s leading advocates for ending the statute of limitations on abuse crimes. Hamilton said that increased publicity about child abuse and about the legal hurdles that victims face as adults when they try to file complaints has garnered enormous support. “So many victims never get justice,” Hamilton said, noting that it “really moved legislators to consider enacting these kinds of laws.”
Hamilton is among more than a dozen specialists who will testify at a public hearing being held by the New York State Assembly’s Codes Committee, in Manhattan, on March 8. Prosecutors, lawyers and advocates who have experience in child sexual abuse cases are also expected to appear. They include individuals who were involved with recent abuse scandals in institutions such as New York’s Poly Prep Country Day School and the Horace Mann School.
Hamilton is one of two Y.U. employees who will appear at the hearing. Since December of last year, more than 20 former students who attended the university’s Manhattan high school for boys have told the Forward that they were abused by two of the school’s staff members over a period ranging from the late 1970s to the early ’90s. Several said that they or their families alerted Y.U. officials but got no response. Y.U. has commissioned a prominent law firm to conduct an investigation into the allegations.
Neither Hamilton nor Rabbi Yosef Blau, the other Y.U. staff member who will speak at the public hearing, said they would deliver testimony directly related to — or defending — Y.U. Nevertheless, Hamilton, the author of a recent book calling for the abolition of the statute of limitations, said she had made her position clear to her employers.
“The cover-up of child sex abuse in any institution is a cancer,” Hamilton said. “And unless you cut it out and get the authorities involved, and make good for all that you did wrong, it will haunt you. And so it’s better for my institution that they be made accountable and they are accountable than to let it fester.” Blau said he intended to testify about his personal experiences dealing with abuse that occurred decades ago.
Blau was one of three rabbis who served on a religious court that, during the late 1980s, largely absolved an Orthodox Union youth leader, Baruch Lanner, of abuse allegations. Blau said the rabbis set a limit of 10 years from any incident for victims to testify against Lanner, which prevented many people from coming forward. Lanner was allowed to continue working with children and was convicted, in 2002, of sexually abusing two girls.
Blau, a spiritual adviser at Y.U. since the late 1970s, said that many victims take decades to come forward, finding the courage to speak out only after they have been in therapy, or once they have the support of a spouse. “It is clear to me that the statute of limitations… eliminates a large number… of people who cannot come forward [earlier],” Blau said.
He added: “I’ve been involved in this issue for a long period of time, and I certainly don’t think I should stop being involved because there’s a problem now at Yeshiva [University].”
A spokesman for Y.U. declined to comment on the institution’s view of the Child Victims Act. But, he added, “Yeshiva University faculty have the academic freedom to teach, discuss, research, publish or pursue any topics as they see fit.”
The New York State legislation was introduced by Markey, a Queens Democrat, last fall. Earlier versions of the bill have passed the state assembly four times, only to meet staunch opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate, where they have been blocked from coming to the floor for a vote.
Last year, following a tightly contested election, Republicans were able to cling to control of the Senate only by forming a pact with a handful of Democrats. One of those Democrats, Jeffrey Klein, supports extending the statute of limitations but only for criminal charges.
“I don’t believe that exposing religious institutions to open-ended, never ending, and potentially devastating civil liability is a smart approach,” Klein said. “Instead, I think we should give victims a better opportunity to pursue criminal charges against the individuals who commit these crimes.”
Evan Stavisky, a partner at the political consulting firm The Parkside Group, said that the Senate now passes relatively few items of controversial legislation, because of the political instability of its current, closely divided membership. Stavisky noted that the Senate passed gun control legislation in January and that, in the coming months, it is set to weigh reproductive health and minimum-wage legislation. “But certainly there is great support [for the Child Victims Act], so you can’t rule it dead until the session is over,” Stavisky said.
The bill’s chances would improve dramatically if New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo were to throw his support behind it. A spokesman for Cuomo did not respond to a call for comment.
Like its earlier versions, the Child Victims Act proposes a one-year window for victims to bring retroactive claims of abuse. Although previous versions of the act extended the statute of limitations by only five years the current version abolishes the statute entirely.
A spokesman for Markey, Mike Armstrong, said the assemblywoman was emboldened to push for abolition of the statute because opposition to the bill appears to have lost momentum. Armstrong said the perception that the act targets organized religion has been weakened by recent prosecutions related to abuse scandals at secular universities and schools, and in organizations like the Boy Scouts of America.
In past years, the New York State Catholic Conference has lobbied hard against the act, bolstered by Agudath Israel of America, an ultra-Orthodox umbrella organization. But the Catholic Church itself has faced blows to its reputation as scandals continue over its failure to confront sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy during past decades.
A spokesman for the Agudah declined to comment on the latest version of the act. In an interview with the Forward last November, Rabbi David Zwiebel, the Agudah’s executive vice president, said his organization supported criminal and possibly civil prosecution of individuals. But the group strongly opposed any legislation that opened up institutions to lawsuits because of the acts of an employee.
“That’s where you are talking about the potential of really destroying some very, very precious assets, which are our schools and shuls,” Zwiebel said. Hamilton is set to testify before the committee that such claims are “irresponsible.”
In a copy of her testimony, provided to the Forward ahead of the hearing, Hamilton said civil litigation in the United States has led to only two bankruptcies, both voluntary and intended “to protect assets and avoid trials that would have revealed the Roman Catholic bishop’s secrets regarding their role in endangering children.”
In her book, “Justice Denied,” Hamilton said there “should be no arbitrary and rigid time frame that permits the multimillionaire parent or wealthy institution that fostered the sex abuse to believe their assets are wholly protected from the victims they destroyed.
“Certainly, no perpetrator or institution that aided that perpetrator should be secure in the knowledge that jail time and fines are beyond the survivor’s reach.”
Contact Paul Berger at email@example.com or on Twitter @pdberger