State task force would study statute of limitations on sexual assault lawsuits

For people who allege they were sexually assaulted by priests in the state’s Catholic dioceses as children but are prevented from filing lawsuits because they have passed their 48th birthday, there was some bad news and a glimmer of hope in a bill passed unanimously by the state Senate last week.

Amended Senate Bill 3, which awaits a vote by the House of Representatives, extends the age to file a lawsuit to 51, five years less than the age of 56 in a previous amendment. The original bill called for a 27-month window in which victims could sue regardless of age and called for the elimination of the statute of limitations for anyone now under 48 for incidents that occur after Oct. 1, 2019.

The amended bill would establish a nine-member task force that would study whether the current statute of limitations should be amended and report its findings and recommendations to the legislature’s Judiciary Committee by Jan. 15, 2020, just before the start of the next legislative session.

The task force must look at the current statute of limitations in Connecticut and other states and review claims that are barred from proceeding due to the current statute of limitations.

One of those victims barred from suing is John “Tim” McGuire of New London, who testified before the Judiciary Committee in April and urged the committee to support the 27-month window and abolish the statute of limitations because many victims do not come forward until they are in their 50s or older.

McGuire, who missed filing a lawsuit by three weeks when he first consulted an attorney just after his 48th birthday, is now 60 and will miss the proposed new filing deadline by nine years.

McGuire, who last month had called the change to 56 “another punch in the gut,” said the lowering to 51 make even less sense, as 52 is the average age that most priest abuse victims come forward.

But he added that the establishment of the task force gives him hope.

“We’ve learned to roll with the punches. If I have to wait another year to file (a lawsuit), then I will. There’s hope where there wasn’t any,” he said. “I just hope the legislators do the right thing.”

McGuire, who alleges he was sexually assaulted when he was an 8-year-old altar boy by the late James Curry at St. Joseph Church in Noank, said he would like to serve on the task force.

Gail Howard, one of the co-leaders of the Connecticut chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, called increasing the age to 51 a “tiny step forward," while some states, such as New York, have abolished the statute of limitations.

“It sends a message to victims that what they have been through is not recognized and their lives are not valued,” she said.

She said the changes to the original language of the bill to abolish the statute of limitations going forward and giving victims of any age 27 months to file lawsuits shows how powerful the forces are who are opposing the changes.

She, like McGuire, said the establishment of a task force is important.

“It took New York seven years to do this. What it means is we are in this for the long haul. We will keep coming back. We will not quit. We’ll keep pushing,” she said. Howard said she understands the positions of some defense attorneys who ask how they can properly defend clients accused of a 25-year-old sexual assault but she said people do not suddenly come forward decades later with a made-up story that is so embarrassing and humiliating.

“Our survivors in SNAP do not just make it up,” said Howard, who has said she was abused as girl by a priest in Illinois.

The committee members, who will be appointed by various legislative leaders, would include a sexual assault victim; three members with “unspecified qualifications”; two who either represent an entity named as a defendant in a civil action involving sexual assault or an attorney who represented clients who were defendants in such cases; a representative from the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence; Joan Maloney, who is the executive director of the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association, or her designee, and a Superior Court judge or someone who has served as a judge. The latter person would be appointed by the chief court administrator.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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