Two House lawmakers oppose legislation to open a “window” to decades-old child sexual abuse civil claims because they say it would likely be struck down by the courts and otherwise would remove a defense tool for the accused.
“While sympathetic to those who were victimized as children, we, as the chairmen of the Judiciary Committee, have opposed such legislation because we believe it to be unconstitutional,” House Judiciary Committee chairman Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin, and his Democratic counterpart Rep. Tom Caltagirone, D-Berks, wrote in a letter distributed to House members earlier this week.
Their concerns over constitutionality stem from a provision in the state constitution that prevents the General Assembly from tampering with fixed litigation defenses, like the statute of limitations in civil cases of child sexual abuse.
While supporters of the change say other states passed similar laws and the proposal should withstand court challenges here, a Cumberland County attorney says the “Remedies Clause” in Pennsylvania’s constitution prevents the General Assembly from eliminating the statute of limitations.
“The potential defendants’ vested rights in the applicable statutes of limitations stand as a total bar to liability and cannot be retroactively eliminated,” wrote Jason Kutulakis, who sat on the governor’s Task Force on Child Protection, in a letter distributed by Marsico and Caltagirone.
Kutulakis says an individual who at one time was protected by the limitations cannot later be charged if those limitations were rescinded.
“While no doubt the amendments are an attempt to remedy a social problem, the policy goals behind the amendments cannot and do not supplant constitutional rights,” he wrote.
“I understand that some advocates suggest that the General Assembly should just open the window and leave it to the courts to decide if the window is constitutional, but that is a dangerous path to travel,” he wrote. “The General Assembly is a co-equal branch of government that has a co-equal duty to preserve and uphold the state constitution. To punt on that duty by not seriously examining the constitutionality of proposed laws is to do violence to the Legislature’s shared burden to the people of this commonwealth.”
The letter continues an ongoing quarrel over the statute changes, with a high-profile plaintiff attorney and other supporters of the changes on one side, and the Roman Catholic Church and the insurance lobby on the other.
The House Judiciary Committee chairmen sidelined one bill that would address the use of names of alleged victims in public court records, after two Democratic representatives planned to amend the bill with the “window” legislation.
Amendments from Reps. Mike McGeehan, D-Philadelphia, and Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, would remove the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse civil claims for two-year time period. Currently, a child victim of sexual abuse has until the age of 30 to file a civil claim.
Marci Hamilton, of Bucks County, is the law professor-turned plaintiff attorney who has written a book on statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases and has led campaigns in other states to support the changes.
Hamilton was criticized by Marsico and Caltagirone for advocating for the changes, but says she doesn’t have clients who would benefit from the changes in Pennsylvania.
She represents over a dozen individuals who have sued the Archdiocese in Philadelphia, but says those individuals would not benefit from statute of limitations changes she supports.
On Monday, the Legislature is scheduled to look at legislation prompted by the arrest and conviction of child predator Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at Penn State University, as well as sex abuse investigations in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The legislation is based on recommendations of the Child Protection Task Force, and deals with criminal, not civil, aspects of the law.
VIEW AS PDF: Remedies Clause does not affect plaintiffs. Only defendants. Why would person on Task Force be so invested in protecting predators rather than learning about perpetrators to protect kids?
Capitolwire: Judiciary chairmen try to sway colleagues on statute of
limitation changes for child sex abuse.
By Kevin Zwick, Staff Reporter, Capitolwire
HARRISBURG (April 5) –