State fails to meet deadlines to establish sexual assault task force

Legislative leaders and state officials have failed to comply with a public act that required them by Aug. 1 to appoint members to a task force that would study whether the statute of limitations for sexual assault victims to file lawsuits should be changed.

The legislation also required the task force to hold its first meeting by Sept 1.

As many as four of the nine positions on the task force remain unfilled and no meetings have been held. The General Assembly schedule of events shows no meetings slated for the task force from July 1, when the public act took effect, to Oct. 31.

Public Act 19-16 also requires the task force to submit a report on its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee no later than Jan. 15, 2020. That would give legislators time to introduce bills reflecting those recommendations for the start of the legislative sessions next winter.

The task force is one result of an unsuccessful effort in the last legislative session to eliminate the statute of limitations for 27 months to give sexual assault victims who had been prevented from filing lawsuits because they were older than 48, the cutoff age, an opportunity to do so.

This would have included many people who say they were sexually assaulted by priests in the state’s Catholic dioceses but did not reveal their abuse until later in life. After behind-the-scenes negotiations, the bill that was passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Ned Lamont increased the age to file a suit by three years to 51 and established the task force to study whether the state should further increase the statute of limitations as other states, such as New York and New Jersey, have done.

One of those unable to file a lawsuit due to the statute of limitations is Tim McGuire, 60, of New London, who has alleged he was repeatedly sexually assaulted as an 8-year-old altar boy by the late Rev. James Curry at St. Joseph’s Church in Noank.

Asked for his reaction to the delay Wednesday, McGuire said “disappointment doesn’t even cover it.”

“Guys' lives are hanging in the balance and these people didn’t get around to picking someone. We’ve been waiting a long time and we expect them to do what the law says and what Gov. Lamont has signed,” he said.

McGuire has become a vocal critic of how the Diocese of Norwich has handled complaints against priests, has been picketing churches in the diocese and testified before a General Assembly committee last year, urging it to abolish the statute of limitations.

Gail Howard, one of the co-leaders of the Connecticut chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, agreed with McGuire.

“This is a law. Legislators are choosing not to follow a law they passed,” she said Wednesday.

“It feels like someone else is calling the shots here,” she said. “Connecticut used to be out in front on issues like this, but now it feels like we are racing backwards.”

Howard said there are many states doing much more on the issue by extending the statute of limitations and beginning grand jury investigations of the church. No such probe is planned in Connecticut.

Howard said she wrote to various legislative leaders recommending that her fellow SNAP co-leader Beth McCabe be appointed to the task force because she was heavily involved in New York’s effort to change its statute of limitations and was very knowledgeable about the issue. But Howard said she never received a response from any of the legislators she contacted.

Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney and Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz have jointly appointed Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, to the task force as its chairperson.

Flexer, who successfully authored a new law that increases protection for victims of sexual harassment and increased the time victims of sexual assault have to file criminal charges, could not be reached to comment this week.

Looney also has appointed Lynn Laperie of Brooklyn, a sexual assault victim, to the group.

Aresimowicz also appointed Paul Slager, a Fairfield attorney who has represented victims of sexual assault. He also serves as president of the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano has appointed Douglas Mahoney, a personal injury lawyer from Bridgeport, to the task force.

Todd Murphy, the manager of press communications for House Democrats, said Tuesday that House Majority Leader Rep. Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, “is actively searching for a candidate.” That candidate must be a representative of an entity or a lawyer who has represented two or more clients who have been named as a defendant in a civil action for sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or sexual assault.

Jennifer Cusato, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, who is required to make the same type of appointment as Ritter, said “at this time there has not been an appointment made.”

She did not respond to a question about why one has not been made.

It is unclear whether a Superior Court judge, a representative of the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence and the executive director or a designee from the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association have been appointed.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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