Legislation to ban confidential lawsuit settlements involving allegations of child sexual abuse, and lengthen the statute of limitations for victims to file civil actions, has been introduced in California. Plans to enact similar legislation also are under way in Indiana. Both actions relate to abusers caught up in the USA Swimming sex abuse scandal.
“We want these people to be held accountable,” Robert Allard said.
Allard, an attorney with Corsiglia McMahon & Allard LLP, in San Jose, Calif., represents the female teenager who sued convicted sexual predator and former swim coach Andrew King, now banned for life from USA Swimming. The King case was the first in a series that embroiled USA Swimming. He also represents Jancy Thompson, who is suing former USA Swimming coach Norm Havercroft, alleging that he sexually abused her when she was a teenage swimmer more than a decade ago.
Allard and his clients met with California Assembly Member Jim Beall (D-San Jose), who introduced AB 1628 in February 2012. Co-authored by Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara), the bill includes several key provisions. It would ban confidential lawsuit settlements involving allegations of child sexual abuse; increase the statute of limitations for victims to file civil actions from age 26 to age 35; require background checks for anyone who has significant interaction with minors; and create accountability for mandatory reporting of any suspected incident.
Organizations must have centralized reporting processes to prevent suspected predators from just moving around within the operation, noted Allard.
As of press time, the bill was moving through the committee process. It is expected to go up for a full Assembly vote in the coming months.
“Closed settlements lead to more abuse, and we think it’s in the public interest to change that,” Assembly Member Beall said.
Meanwhile, in Indiana, state Sen. Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis) has announced his intention to introduce legislation during the 2013 session to ensure that convicted sexual predators serve designated sentences.
“I am currently pursuing two options that include either increasing incarceration time served by subtracting credit given for earned degrees from a sex offender’s actual prison sentence, rather than release date; or prohibiting sex offenders from taking advantage of the education credit program at all,” said Merritt in an official statement.
His efforts came about following word that convicted sex offender Christopher Wheat would be released after serving only about 1½ years of an eight-year sentence. Wheat, a former USA Swimming coach, was convicted in 2010 for having a sexual relationship with one of his 14-year-old female swimmers. He received the reduced time due to good behavior and earning two degrees during his incarceration.
Wheat coached at the high school Merritt’s children attended. He is currently banned for life from USA Swimming.
Looking ahead, Merritt and Beall are optimistic that the legislation will pass. Allard and his clients now are looking toward the federal government. They’re working with Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Mike Honda (D-Calif.) to pass a federal law and schedule official congressional hearings regarding USA Swimming. These would be similar to the Major League Baseball steroid hearings, Allard explained.