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.

News investigation highlights cost of school employee ‘administrative leave’ in Chain | Cohn | Stiles civil lawsuits

October 9, 2019 | 3:26 pm


In the 2018-2019 school year, the Kern High School District had five employees who faced allegations involving sexually inappropriate behavior, including alleged suspects in Chain | Cohn | Stiles civil lawsuits. Eyewitness News, in an investigation, found that those employees, put on administrative leave while they were being investigated for sex crimes, earned a combined $162,000.

Once you factor in the cost of substitute teachers and legal fees, roughly $250,000 of taxpayer money was spent on these educators who were not educating anyone, the KBAK-29 Eyewitness News investigation found.

“As a taxpayer, I’m offended,” said David Cohn in an interview with Eyewitness News. Cohn is the managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles and attorney representing four of the eight families who have filed claims against Edwin Rodriguez and the high school district. “These serious allegations have been made against him with multiple young women. Once he’s arrested why can’t the district judge just fire him at that point?”

Kern County Sheriff’s Office 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. In February, local media reported 10 people came forward to investigators alleging inappropriate physical contact and other unwanted interaction by Rodriguez while he worked as an athletic equipment manager at North High School.

According to the victims, Rodriguez would give students sodas and candy, befriend them on the social media, and send them sexually explicit photos and videos, among other sexual misconduct that took place over several years. One of the women is 19 years old, and the abuse first occurred when she was a sophomore in high school. In one instance, Rodriguez sent a photo on Snapchat to two of the girls that showed him wearing shorts and a tank top and grabbing his penis. A number of text messages sent by Rodriguez to the girls told them he thought they were “hot” or commented on various parts of their body he found attractive. Rodriguez “groomed” the victims, Chain | Cohn | Stiles personal injury attorney David Cohn

Under Education Code 44939, schools can suspend school employees without pay in the case of a serious, immoral or criminal conduct, and have an expedited hearing in 60 days. In the case of Rodriguez, KHSD did not immediately fire or remove his pay, and the investigation took much longer than 60 days. The high school district said in a statement during that time that they “fully cooperated with the Kern County Sheriff’s Office as it investigated allegations against Edwin Rodriguez. KHSD placed Edwin Rodriguez on an unpaid leave immediately after he was charged with a mandatory leave of absence offense as required by Education Code.”

In the case of Edwin Rodriguez, he was placed on leave for 102 days starting in September 2018 over allegations of sexually assaulting as many as ten students at North High School. He was paid over $16,000 during that span, according to the news investigation. Rodriguez resigned in May 2019 and is facing 24 criminal charges.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys and the parents of the victims advise other parents to talk to their children about boundaries with those authority.

“Take this opportunity to have a discussion with your teenager,” Cohn said. “Students should never have one-on-one conversations through social media or text messages with school personnel, coaches, or other adults in authority. And encourage them to speak up if someone in authority contacts them privately or crosses a line.”

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What to do in a sexual abuse / assault case

Call for help: Always call the police, a rape hotline, or both following any form of sexual assault or abuse. 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. Hospitals often have specialists trained to help in these types of situations, and they often have someone on staff that can help with stress.

Contact at attorney: After you have taken all the aforementioned steps, contact a sexual assault and abuse lawyer.

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If you or someone you know is sexually abused by someone in authority, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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PREVIOUS CLAIM FILING MEDIA COVERAGE

PREVIOUS CRIMINAL CASE MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files claims on behalf of 3 students who were victims of sexual misconduct at local high school

March 13, 2019 | 6:00 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles law firm has filed claims on behalf of three 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. Local media reported 10 people came forward to investigators alleging inappropriate physical contact and other unwanted interaction by Rodriguez while he worked as an athletic equipment manager at North High School.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, after speaking with victims and investigators, suspects there could be even more victims. According to the victims, Rodriguez would give students sodas and candy, befriend them on the social media, and send them sexually explicit photos and videos, among other sexual misconduct that took place over several years. One of the women is 19 years old, and the abuse first occurred when she was a sophomore in high school.

In one instance, Rodriguez sent a photo on Snapchat to two of the girls that showed him wearing shorts and a tank top and grabbing his penis. A number of text messages sent by Rodriguez to the girls told them he thought they were “hot” or commented on various parts of their body he found attractive.

Rodriguez “groomed” the victims, Chain | Cohn | Stiles personal injury attorney David Cohn, who is representing the victims and their families, told local media. To see full media coverage of the filing of the complaints and the arrest of Rodriguez, please see the links below.

The mother of one of the victims has also spoken out.

“This sick man manipulated my daughter. She and I are very close, but she felt she was doing something wrong and was afraid to tell me about it,” said the mother of one of the victims in a statement. “My hope through this lawsuit is to prevent this from happening in the future, and to protect our students through better accountability and scrutiny of school officials.”

Added Cohn: “We want to get to the bottom of how this went on for so long.”

“I think all the markers were out there,” Cohn told KGET-17. “It will be interesting to listen to the district’s explanation for why they didn’t do something sooner.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys and the parents of the victims advise other parents to talk to their children about boundaries with those authority.

“Take this opportunity to have a discussion with your teenager,” Cohn said. “Students should never have one-on-one conversations through social media or text messages with school personnel, coaches, or other adults in authority. And encourage them to speak up if someone in authority contacts them privately or crosses a line.”

Citing similar cases that have occurred in the past few years, Cohn told local media that a message must be sent to the school district that this type of behavior won’t be tolerated.

“A the end of the day, what really has an impact on the school district is getting hit in their pocketbook,” Cohn said.

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CLAIM FILING MEDIA COVERAGE

 

CRIMINAL CASE MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney provides legal commentary following North High School sexual misconduct allegations

February 27, 2019 | 10:48 am


A local high school athletic equipment manager has been arrested on suspicion of having sexual contact with current and former students. And as yet another local school employee is arrested on suspicion of sexual misconduct with a student, Chain | Cohn | Stiles personal injury attorney Matt Clark provided insight to media on the ongoing problem, and the effects on victims.

According to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, Edwin Rodriguez, 40, who worked at North High School in north Bakersfield, was arrested 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. He faces 11 felony counts and 13 misdemeanor counts.

For media coverage of this case with Clark’s legal commentary, see “Media Coverage” at the bottom of this post.

According to media reports, 10 people have come forward to investigators alleging inappropriate physical contact and other unwanted interaction. Rodriguez allegedly sent explicit messages, including photos and videos, to eight juvenile students through the social media platform Snapchat and that he had sexual contact with several of the victims dating back to 2015. One of the alleged student victims at North High estimated they had witnessed over 300 conversations with Rodriguez of a sexual nature involving students, both male and female, according to court documents.

The arrest of Rodriguez comes after several other sexual misconduct cases in recent months. In December, former Liberty High School boys basketball coach was charged on suspicion of annoying or molesting a child under the age of 18. Also, a Kern County jury awarded $10 million to a girl who was allegedly molested by a computer lab technician for the Lamont Elementary School District. A lawsuit was recently filed against a former Highland High School assistant principal who allegedly sexually abused a 16-year-old male student in 2009. And a McFarland High School basketball coach was arrested on suspicion of sexual misconduct in October after a male student came forward to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office; the coach had allegedly sent inappropriate text messages to the student, promising him a spot on the school varsity team in exchange for sexual favors.

Matt Clark, who has represented several victims of sexual abuse and misconduct, told local media he has seen these types of cases all too often.

“I don’t think people realize the damage they do to these young adolescents when an adult gets into a relationship with them. It haunts them years and years later,” Clark told The Bakersfield Californian. “Victims don’t necessarily want to come forward. I think they’re in a tough position.”

Social media and text messaging have played big roles both in allowing such relationships to start; they also help prove that misconduct has actually taken place.

“It gives the sexual predators the means to make contact and to groom their prey,” Clark said. “However, it’s also actual documentary evidence that a school employee sent inappropriate messages or material to a minor. Before we had that technology it was just verbalization, which was difficult to prove.”

Several times a year, Clark speaks at the Kern High School District “Coaches Clinic,” which trains school employees on various legal issues to watch out for.

“One of the rules that I give to the coaches during the training is do not text message a student one on one,” Clark said on KGET-17 News. “There should never be a situation where you are text messaging a student one on one.”

Clark said that while some predators believe deleting their correspondence with students will protect them from being caught, that is not the case.

“If you put something in a text message, it’s saved forever, even if you delete them,” Clark said. “If you’re having inappropriate contact with a student and you don’t know that, that’s really playing with fire.”

If you or someone you know is sexually abused by someone in authority, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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What to do in a sexual abuse / assault case

Call for help: Always call the police, a rape hotline, or both following any form of sexual assault or abuse. 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. Hospitals often have specialists trained to help in these types of situations, and they often have someone on staff that can help with stress.

Contact at attorney: After you have taken all the aforementioned steps, contact a sexual assault and abuse lawyer.

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MEDIA COVERAGE