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.

Sex & Education: Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney discusses recent local sex issues involving educators

February 6, 2019 | 6:00 am


In recent weeks, local media has reported on several allegations of various sexual misconduct on behalf of educators in Kern County schools, and Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark has provided expert insight on the legal issues.

Recently, local media reported on a local high school science teacher alleged to have appeared in pornographic videos, and a high school assistant principal alleged to have sexually abused a student.

For more on these news reports, including a radio interview with Matt Clark on the subject, see the “Media Coverage” links below.

Since Chain | Cohn | Stiles provides legal representation for victims of sexual abuse and assault at the hands teachers, law enforcement, coaches, and others in authority, local media spoke to Clark about the legal ramifications.

Teachers should have no social media or after-school contact whatsoever with their students, Clark advised.

Every year, Clark speaks to local high school coaches regarding liability in athletics. He advises them to never give out their cellphone numbers to students or interact with them on social media. And every year, he told The Bakersfield Californian, people ignore that advice. He’s had multiple cases come across his desk regarding teachers or coaches engaging in alleged inappropriate conduct with students, often starting online or through texts.

Clark said if a coach or teacher goes against his advice and does text a student or contact them online, the message shouldn’t contain anything they wouldn’t be embarrassed for their mother to see.

Any sexual contact, he said, “is clearly illegal.” In one case reported recently, a Highland High School student is suing the Kern High School District and former assistant principal claiming he sexually abused a homeless student who entered the school as part of a school-sponsored homeless assistance program. The assistant principal’s defense attorney says the allegations are false.

As for the case of the Frontier High School teacher appearing in porn videos, Clark told local media that the teacher could potentially file a wrongful termination lawsuit of the schools dismisses her, considering the allegations make no mention of sex acts involving students or occurring on school grounds.

“You’re on a really slippery slope here because obviously these are sensational circumstances, but where do you draw the line?” Clark told The Bakersfield Californian.

Teachers in California are subject to a set of guidelines called “Morrison factors” developed by the California Supreme Court to determine whether a person is fit to teach. They include the effect of the notoriety, impairment of teacher-student relationships, disruption of the education process and how recently the conduct occurred.

“You analyze the totality of the circumstances,” Clark said.

The typical cases Clark handles regarding schools involve incidents where a teacher or other school employee became involved in a sexual relationship with a student. That’s clearly illegal, he said, as opposed to what the teacher is alleged to have done. Still, he said, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to a teacher in such a situation for the case to have received intense media scrutiny.

“As a teacher you’re kind of a public figure, you’re considered a role model,” Clark said, “and if you put this type of material in a public forum where it can be found you’re kind of asking for trouble.”

 

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.

If you or someone you know is sexually abused or assault 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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MEDIA COVERAGE