New state law gives sexual assault, abuse victims more time to seek justice

January 29, 2020 | 10:21 am


The new year brings with it a new law in California allowing victims of childhood sexual assault more time to file lawsuits, and seek justice.

Assembly Bill 218 gives victims of childhood sexual abuse either until age 40 or five years from discovery of the abuse to file civil lawsuits. The previous limit had been 26, or within three years from discovery of the abuse. It also allows victims of all ages three years to bring claims that would have otherwise been barred due to existing statutes.

“Abuse victims are grateful to get a shot at justice through this new law without a stringent time limit,” said managing partner and attorney David Cohn, who has represented many victims of sexual abuse through his work at the Law Office of Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “It’s important for victims to come forward when they are ready, and ultimately protect our community from future abuse, and obtain accountability.”

Specifically, the new law is a game-changer for childhood victims because it changes how survivors are treated and supported.

In recent years, allegations of sexual abuse have been voiced by victims and conveyed through media reports from Olympic teams, school children, Boy Scouts, and Catholic churchgoers, with media highlighted such allegations. We’ve seen an uprising of women (and men, too) who have gone public with their stories of sexual harassment, assault and abuse, and systemic sexism, particularly in the world of Hollywood.

In fact, the California Catholic Conference in a statement to media described sexual abuse by members of the clergy as a “legacy of shame.”

“It is a legacy of shame for all of us in the Church, and we are aware that nothing can undo the violence done to victim-survivors or restore the innocence and trust that was taken from them,” the statement read. “Ultimately, our hope is that all victim-survivors of childhood sexual abuse in all institutional settings will be able to have their pain and suffering addressed and resolved and so our prayers are that AB 218 will be a step forward in that direction.”

California is at least the third state this year to pass such a law, according to reports. Earlier this year, New York and New Jersey raised their statutes of limitations to age 55. New York also suspended its statute of limitations for one year, leading to hundreds of lawsuits against hospitals, schools, the Roman Catholic Church and the late financier Jeffrey Epstein.

“This law puts powerful institutions like the Catholic hierarchy, public schools and sports leagues on notice that they cannot allow predators to molest children, cover up their crimes and escape responsibility,” said Matt Clark, senior partner and attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has been involved in several lawsuits in recent years in representing victims of sexual abuse and sex assault:

  • Our attorneys filed lawsuits in federal court against the County of Kern and a juvenile corrections officer on behalf of a young woman who were sexually abused at juvenile hall.
  • Our lawyers also filed claims on behalf of several students who were victims of sexual misconduct at North High School. Kern County Sheriff’s Office has arrested Edwin Rodriguez on suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with minors 14 to 15 years old, exhibiting harmful matter to a minor, annoying a child under 18 and false imprisonment.
  • Chain | Cohn | Stiles represented Karen Frye, who was sexually molested at Lerdo Jail by a Kern County Sheriff’s Department detentions deputy. The law firm filed suit against the county for civil rights violations, conspiracy, sexual assault and battery, negligence, fraud, breach of contract and excessive use of force. The department also attempted to “buy off” Frye by offering her $1,500 in exchange for her agreement to not sue the department. That case settled for $300,000.
  • We represented a woman who was sexually assaulted by Kern County deputy Gabriel Lopez in her home in Tehachapi. Lopez sexually assaulted at least two other people as well. He pleaded no contest to two counts of assault by a public officer, two counts of false imprisonment, and two counts of sexual battery, and was sentenced to two years in prison. Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys also represented a 79-year-old woman who called the sheriff’s office during a dispute with her husband, who was diagnosed with late-stage Alzheimer’s. She, too, was sexually assaulted by Lopez in a similar fashion to his other victims. The third victim was quietly paid $5,000 by the department, and was unable to bring a civil claim.

In addition, the partners at Chain | Cohn | Stiles penned a “Community Voices” article, calling on the County of Kern to cease practices that call for confidential settlements in lawsuits pertaining to victims of sexual assault, as well as paying “hush money” to those victims.

Here’s what you can do if you’ve been sexually assaulted or abused:

  • Call for help: Always call the police, a rape hotline or both following any form of sexual assault or abuse. This can be difficult to do, but the sooner you get in touch with someone, the sooner justice can be served.
  • See a doctor: Seek immediate medical care following a rape or sexual abuse scenario. Hospitals often have specialists trained to help in these types of situations and they often have someone on staff that can help with the stress.
  • Contact an attorney: After you have taken all the aforementioned steps, contact a legal professional, who has understanding of sexual abuse law.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, or sexually abused or assaulted by someone in authority, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

Annual march focuses on rights of victims of crimes, injustices in Kern County

April 13, 2016 | 9:23 am


One victim is a woman who was sexually assaulted by the very person in charge of protecting her and other citizens in our community, a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy. Another woman was struck and killed by a drunk driver as she walked home. Any yet another victim was beaten to death by several law enforcement officers.

They are victims whose civil cases are represented by attorney from the Bakersfield-based law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles, but they all have one thing in common. Those directly involved in these cases, and their families, are all considered victims of crimes and injustices, and were represented at the fourth annual Victims’ Rights March.

“It’s important to honor the memories of these victims, and it’s equally important to speak out against the injustices these victims have faced,” said David Cohn, managing partner of the injury, accident and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

The march, organized by the Kern County District Attorney’s Office, began at 5 p.m. Tuesday (April 12) at the Liberty Bell in front of Kern County Superior Court and continued toward Mill Creek Park in downtown Bakersfield. The theme for this year’s march was “Serving Victims. Building Trust. Restoring Hope.” The march was followed by a candlelight vigil.

The march is also part of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, established by Ronald Reagan in 1981.

“I think a lot of the criminal justice system is focused on the rights of the accused, as it should be, but sometimes victims’ rights get lost in all of that, and I think victims feel like they’re overlooked or ignored,” said Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green on KBAK-29. “So this is just an event where people can come together with other people who have suffered similar losses.”

At Chain | Cohn | Stiles, attorneys continue day in and day out to fight civil cases for victims of crimes and other injustices. The law firm is also deeply involved in causes that assist victims of crimes including through Mothers Against Drunk Driving and through the National Crime Victim Bar Association.

Recently, a five-part series by The Guardian examined the use of deadly force, rough justice, sexual misconduct and questionable practices among local law enforcement agencies, which garnered attention nationwide. And among the cases highlighted were those of local victims involved  wrongful death, police misconduct, sexual misconduct and civil rights cases handled by the Bakersfield law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

They included David Sal Silva, who was killed on the night of May 7, 2013. Silva was asleep in front of a home in east Bakersfield, across from Kern Medical Center when several law enforcement officers arrived on scene and proceeded to use unreasonable and excessive force in striking Silva with batons several times all over his body, while he screamed for his life and repeatedly begged the officers to stop. After being repeatedly beaten, bitten and hog-tied, Silva stopped breathing. Shortly after midnight, Silva was taken to Kern Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a civil rights lawsuit in connection with the wrongful death of David Silva.

In another highlighted case, Jane Doe was sexually assaulted by Kern County deputy Gabriel Lopez in her home in Tehachapi. Lopez sexually assaulted at least two other people as well. He pleaded no contest to two counts of assault by a public officer, two counts of false imprisonment, and two counts of sexual battery, and was sentenced to two years in prison.

If you or someone you know is the victim of a crime, contact the lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at 661-323-4000, or visit the law firm’s website at chainlaw.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Local families, attorneys to march against police misconduct in ‘Walk for Justice’

March 3, 2015 | 10:08 am


Note: To see media coverage of this event, scroll to the bottom.

Prominent attorneys will be joining local families in the “Walk for Justice” on Saturday, March 14, to speak out against local cases of police misconduct, wrongful death and civil rights violations.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Neil Gehlawat will be joining lawyers from the prominent Los Angeles-based firm Geragos & Geragos at the 1 p.m. march, which starts at 1700 Flower St. in east Bakersfield.

That’s near the site where David Silva lost his life on the night of May 7, 2013, when officers approached him as he lay on the grass across the street from Kern County Medical Center. Silva, a 33-year-old father of four, was severely beaten by seven baton-wielding officers, and died an hour later.

The two prominent law firms are working together on the Silva wrongful death case, as well as other Kern County cases against the Kern County Sheriff’s Department and Bakersfield Police Department. The civil lawsuit is ongoing. 

Silva’s family, joined by other families from local cases of police misconduct, are now advocating for an end to police brutality.

To read more about the Silva case, click here.

The marchers will be meeting at four locations where incidents of police brutality have taken place, and will leave flowers in remembrance of victim’s lives. Those victims also include Ronnie (Pops) Ledesma, David Turner and James De La Rosa. The march will end at Heritage Park.

“Be the voice for those who no longer have one,” organizers stated in a flier for the march.

Attorney Neil Gehlawat will be speaking about local cases, as well as a representative from Geragos & Geragos. Attorney Mark Geragos is representing the families of two men killed by Bakersfield police in separate incidents, including the killing of Ramiro James Villegas on Nov. 13. That claim seeks damages for violation of civil and constitutional rights, wrongful death, punitive damages and emotional injuries. It says Villegas got out of his vehicle and held his hands up after being cornered by officers into a light pole. Officers said Villegas reached toward his waistband, and the officers opened fire, killing him. No gun or other weapon was found in Villegas’ possession.

For more information on the march, visit the “Walk for Justice” Facebook event page by clicking here, or call 661-747-1110. The march is sponsored by “Concerned Citizens of Bakersfield #UnitedWeStand.”

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Media:

The Bakersfield Californian: March draws attention to deaths in encounters with law enforcement

KGET Channel 17 (NBC): Locals call for more accountability in law enforcement

Instagram: CCS’ Neil Gehlawat speaks at “Walk for Justice” event

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Police misconduct, police brutality and the denial of civil rights have the effect of undermining our country’s Constitution. Common forms of police misconduct include unnecessary use of force, false imprisonment, sexual harassment and assault, illegal searches and planting evidence, among other circumstances. If you or someone you know has been a victim of police misconduct or police brutality, call the Bakersfield police misconduct lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at 661-323-4000, or visit the law firm’s website at Chainlaw.com.

Families of crime victims aim to ‘restore the balance of justice’

April 11, 2014 | 9:35 am


Some were killed by drunk drivers, and others at the hands of other human beings. But all of them are victims of crimes, and their families are fighting for justice.

About 400 people gathered this week outside of Kern County Superior Court to honor loved ones who had been killed, and in some cases pray for justice to be served. They waved signs and marched through downtown Bakersfield streets as part of the second annual Victims’ Rights March, and National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, which is held each year in April. This year’s theme is “Restoring the Balance of Justice.” They also celebrated the Victims of Crime Act, which recognizes the rights of victims.

Some of the participants are being represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, and others are partners of the firm who are striving for the same goal — justice.

Among them was the family was David Silva, who was beaten to death by several law enforcement officers. CCS has filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Silva’s family.

Another participant was Carla Pearson, program coordinator and victim advocate for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Kern County. Since her stepson was killed by a repeat DUI offender in 2002, she has been campaigning for victim’s rights in and out of the courtroom, and to take DUI offenders off of the streets.

Pearson has partnered with our law firm, local law enforcement, Kern County District Attorney’s Office, and other community groups in the first-ever “Walk/Run Like MADD” 5K, to be held on Sept. 20 at Park at River Walk. The event aims to raise awareness in our own community, raise funds to stop drunken driving and underage drinking locally, and provide support to victims and survivors of drunk driving accidents.

Others at the march, too, had family members killed in auto accidents, including a mother of a 20-year-old who held a sign against texting and driving, The Bakersfield Californian reported. The mother believed texting was a factor in the crash that killed her daughter.

Another mother held a photo of her son, who died in a hit-and-run accident last year, The Californian reported.

“I think (the victims’ march) is important for us to support each other in this,” the mother told The Californian. “We have not forgotten our loved ones.”

National Crime Victims’ Rights Week ends this week, but at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, we believe it’s important to keep crime victims’ rights in mind always.

Blogging for Justice

February 28, 2014 | 2:43 pm


Welcome to Blogging for Justice, a Chain | Cohn | Stiles web blog focusing on the law, our firm, and our involvement in the community.

First, a little about us: We’re Kern County’s leading plaintiffs’ personal injury law firm, and the oldest personal injury law firm in Bakersfield. Our attorneys have represented clients from all over the San Joaquin Valley and throughout California for 80 years, and in the process have recovered in excess of half a billion dollars on behalf of our clients. We concentrate our efforts on protecting the rights of individuals who have been seriously injured due to the negligent, reckless or intentional conduct of another.

At Blogging for Justice, you’ll be able to learn more about:

  • Tips and information on what to do if you ever find yourself in need of one of our lawyers.
  • News about our high-profile cases and results.
  • Our charitable work throughout our community.
  • Information about the firm’s various practice areas like car accidents, wrongful death cases, elder abuse cases, civil rights cases and oilfield accidents, among others.
  • Awards and recognitions of our lawyers and law firm.
  • Other relevant news and insight from throughout our area.

Thank you for reading. You can also join us for breaking news and information on our various social media sites:

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