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Wednesday
Mar162016

Pam Palmer & Susan Burke Testify Before MD General Assembly Re: Need to Extend Statute of Limitations in Sex Abuse Cases Like CLC & SGM 

The lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries and Covenant Life Church was dismissed due to the statute of limitations in Maryland for civil cases involving sexual abuse.  

Last week, there were two hearings before the Maryland General Assembly to consider extending the statute of limitations from 7 years to 20 years or from age 25 to age 38.  One before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding Senate Bill 69.  The another before the House of Delegates’ Judiciary Committee regarding House Bill 1215. 

Pam Palmer, mother of a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries, appeared before the Senate.  Susan Burke, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, appeared before the House of Delegates.  Both did an outstanding job explaining why it is necessary to extend the statute of limitations.  

Pam’s testimony in favor of the bill follows.  I’ve also added my own comments in italics.  

Pam Palmer – Favorable – MD-SB69 to Extend Civil Statute of Limitations on Child Abuse 

I am the mother of a sexual abuse victim.  My family was part of a widely publicized civil lawsuit alleging sex abuse cover-up by a megachurch located in Montgomery County, Maryland called Covenant Life Church (CLC).  Last month, the Washingtonian Magazine published an extensive expose on our case. [see references] Our case (currently inactive) is not slip and fall litigation.  It involved real lives that have been ruined.  There were 11 victims, who had the courage to come forward.  Many went public with their real names -- putting their own privacy aside for the sake of justice.  There were more victims, who were not able to get to join our case prior to its dismissal.  

Comment: The Covenant Life pastors have told church members in private meetings that numerous victims in the lawsuit made up their “slip and fall” stories of sexual abuse motivated by extreme greed for wealth and material gain.  I’ve interacted with these victims and that is an obscene charge.  

There are more victims in Covenant Life Church, Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax, and Sovereign Grace Ministries at large than those contained in the lawsuit.  I know because I have interacted with them, their families, and/or witnesses.  In some cases, I have written about them on this blog.        

It is crucial to note, false allegations of sex abuse by children are only 1-10%, hovering in most studies closer to the lower percentages of 1.5-2% depending on what study is reviewed. (The Leadership Council, 2005).  Only 2-8% of all sex crimes accusations by adults are false. (FBI, Stanford University, NADDA, 2016)  

Comment: Mark Mitchell, Executive Pastor for Covenant Life Church; and Mark Prater, Executive Director for Sovereign Grace Ministries; on behalf of their respective organizations, have accused multiple victims of making up their sex crimes accusations.  In addition, these men have stated there has been no cover-up any kind and that allegations to that effect by the 11 victims or their families are entirely false. 

Plaintiffs like Jessica Roberts-Thomas and Heather Thompson-Bryant came forward by name in the Second Amended Complaint (lawsuit). This was unnecessary.  They could have used pseudonyms and concealed their identities if they wanted to make up all kinds of heinous lies about Defendants like John Loftness or alleged perpetrators like Steve Griney in order to win a big lawsuit.  Instead, they bravely decided to reveal their identities in order to strengthen their case knowing CLC and SGM would disparage them.      

CLC pastors and SGM leaders have often attacked their critics and falsely accused them.  That is what they are doing with these victims of sexual abuse.  Remember, only 2-8% of all sex crimes accusation by adults are false.  CLC and SGM are claiming that 67% of the sex crime accusations related to MD are false and 100% of the conspiracy accusations are false. 

Tom McCarthy, the director of the Academy Award-winning movie, Spotlight said of the horrific sex abuse scandal in Boston, “We have to make sure this never happens again.”  Unfortunately, our experience shows that it is still happening. 

Although there has been one recent conviction in 2014, of Nate Morales, a former Worship leader from CLC, sentenced for 40 yrs., other related criminal investigations have been slow to bring any arrests.  It is difficult to get a criminal conviction on a perpetrator, after a long time.   

Comment: It is difficult to get a criminal conviction after a long period of time and that is one reason but not the only reason, the statute of limitations should be extended in civil cases concerning sexual abuse.  The burden of proof goes from “beyond a reasonable doubt” in a criminal trial to a “preponderance” of evidence in a civil hearing.  It is easier but not easy.  A victim must still prove a greater weight of evidence or more convincing evidence in order to win a lawsuit.  

One must also keep in mind that the wrongly accused can countersue any “make believe” victim for creating a libelous and fictional account.  Statistically, however, it almost never happens that a fake victim makes up false accusations, goes to civil court, and wins a bogus lawsuit with dirt bag attorneys.  

Furthermore, Susan Burke and William O’Neil would never have taken on this case, appealed this case, or continue to work this case, at their own expense, if they thought the victims were liars motivated by avarice.  

Extending the statute of limitations by 13 years in MD does not put alleged perpetrators at greater risk; but not extending it certainly puts society at greater risk.  It also denies victims the opportunity to make their case in a civil court and be restituted for the harms they have suffered.  Restitution is a fundamental axiom of biblical justice. 

With current civil litigation being time-barred for the sexual abuse survivor, in their late 20s, 30s or 40s, who finally have come to place where they can seek justice - there is no justice.  In addition, the larger society is endangered, because there is no way officially to alert the public and protect more children from sexual predators wandering in our communities and our houses of worship.  There must be another way. 

Comment: In Maryland, a victim of sexual abuse must file a civil lawsuit by the time they turn 25.  That is not nearly long enough.  Most victims don’t come forward until later in life because the trauma is so great.  In the case of convicted sex abuser Nate Morales, the first victim to come forward to law enforcement did not do so until he was 38 years old. 

The legal climate throughout the United States has been changing on the issue of SOL [statute of limitations], because of this very dilemma and others like it.  Currently, almost half of the states have extended, are extending their SOL.  I want to highlight what some of our neighboring jurisdictions have been doing. 

Comment: Here is a short excerpt from the testimony provided by Susan Burke. 

“It is beyond dispute that the injuries inflicted by pedophiles; they last forever. It is also beyond dispute that victims don’t recover quickly. They cannot speak up quickly. In order for them to have the time they need to recover and to put together the type of support systems that are needed to endure the re-traumatization that occurs by telling their stories in public…That takes a long time to get up the courage to do that. Seven years is just too short… And what I would highly recommend to all of you who care about people, who care about the citizens of this state.  Take a look at the book [The Child Survivor] by Sheppard Pratt psychologist, Joyanna Silberg.  It is well documented.  Well researched.  And it will help you understand why a lengthy stature of limitations is really needed here. … There is no reason why the courthouse doors should be slammed shut on these victims. This is a long overdue legislative reform. There is no reason not to do this. As the Delegate mentioned there is already plenty of protections in our judicial system to assist the defendants in warding off lawsuits. So I urge all of you to really seriously consider this issue. Seriously consider what message you are sending by refusing to extend the statute of limitations given that the science is so clear that time is needed for recovery.  

Delaware: 

In 2007, the state of DE enacted one of the strongest, pro-victim civil SOL [statute of limitations] laws on child abuse, allowing no time limits for civil action.  DE has been way ahead of the curve on this crucial legislative reform.  

During 2009, a horrific case of a pediatrician caught having abused and photographed the abuse of more than 100 infants and toddlers and is now serving life imprisonment.  

When there is a long history of sex crimes, such as this serial pedophile, victims deserve to have justice by bringing forth civil suit.   

I grew up in New Castle County, DE.  In that county, where my parents were members of a local Roman Catholic parish, 91% of all the parishes had one credibly accused priest, as reported in 2010.  Because of the extended SOL, a number of successful civil cases have been brought forth – stopping predators and bringing about greater safety for the society, at large.  

When there is pervasive, longstanding collusion by an institution, victims deserve to have the freedom to bring civil litigation through extended SOL. 

Pennsylvania: 

PA state legislators and activists having been advocating recently to change their state’s SOL. 

This is, in part, because of the Penn State scandal, Sandusky was convicted in 2012 of molesting 10 boys.  Penn State has settled multi-million dollar civil suits with some of Sandusky’s victims.  A 48 yr. old alleged victim has come forward.  He is time-barred from even a criminal case against Sandusky, and so far has been unable to have justice, in criminal or civil court.  This victim has to settle for “vicarious justice” not based on the merits of his own case.  

Older survivors of child sex abuse deserve their own day in court, not merely something vicarious.  Extended SOL would provide for this.  

Bill Cosby, with nearly 60 women accusing him of rape, has finally had criminal charges brought against him in PA.  Although the victims were all adult women, this case highlights the importance of civil litigation helping to bring about a criminal case.  The PA States Attorney was able to bring criminal charges against Cosby based on evidence arising from sworn testimony in a civil case against Cosby. 

Comment: I hope the upcoming lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax in Virginia also results in criminal charges being brought against Defendants and alleged sex abusers in Maryland because further evidence arises. 

Having extended civil SOL, will help protect society from sexual predators, which may be difficult to criminally prosecute (because length of time, lack of evidence, etc.) 

Virginia: 

In 2011, VA extended their civil SOL, to 20 yrs. They are 5 years ahead of the Commonwealth of Maryland in reform civil statutes on child abuse.   

In 2015, a well-known, youth baseball coach, was convicted of sexual abuse and sentenced to 79 yrs.  However, it took 3 criminal cases to get a conviction.  He was acquitted for child sexual abuse twice - before he was convicted.  What if the third criminal case had not been able to make charges stick?  

This case exemplifies the complexity of the judicial system.  Having extended SOL provides an added layer of protection for children, to bring forward more victims or evidence needed to win a conviction. 

D.C. 

D.C. is currently working towards extending their SOLs to 20 yrs.  

A former Police officer (a 25 yr. veteran of the force) and a SE pastor was recently convicted of sexually abusing 2 girls in 2015 and sentenced to 18 years.  An older victim from approximately 25 yrs. earlier came forward as a witness to corroborate their case when she was just 6 yrs. old.  This victim perhaps unable to get a conviction on her own during the past 25 years, should have the freedom to sue him, if she so chooses.  

Comment: This police officer was also a pastor in the southeastern part of Washington D.C.  I know of an alleged abuser in SGM who is also a police officer.  I’ve talk to him and gathered evidence on him.  Going into law enforcement or the ministry can provide cover for the sexual abuse of children in the past or present.

Short civil SOL time bar victim’s civil rights, particularly in cases of longstanding serial sexual predators.  

West Virginia: 

Only has 2 yr. SOL. (We don’t want to go backwards like this jurisdiction’s civil SOL) 

In 2013, a Mormon Church leader’s adult son was convicted of sexually abusing 12 children and sentenced to 75 yrs.  The victims currently are in an active lawsuit against the Mormon Church for cover-up.  The victims are in an uphill battle because of the anti-victim climate and the misguided judgement by the judge, who has order them to pay for the convicted child molester’s legal fees.  These victims are apparently within the civil SOL in WV.  If they had not been, there would be twelve victims without recourse towards the institution, which has allegedly harmed them through cover up of a sexual predator.  

The cycle would continue.  An anti-victim, legal environment breeds more victims. 

Vice President Joe Biden said at the Oscars in reference to sexual assault: “Let’s change the culture.  We must and we can change the culture.  So that no abused woman or man…ever feel they have to ask themselves, ‘What did I do?’  They did nothing wrong.” 

Criminal and civil laws are like the two bookends that hold up our judicial system to enable justice for victims and to protect society.  We need extended civil SOL to help victims get justice.  Please allow bill SB69 to go to the Senate floor for an up or down vote.  Thank you. 

References: 

False Allegation Statistics: 

http://web.stanford.edu/group/maan/cgi-bin/?page_id=297 

http://ndaa.org/pdf/the_voice_vol_3_no_1_2009.pdf   

http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/res/csa-acc.html  

Child Molestation Statistics: 

http://www.childmolestationprevention.org/pdfs/study.pdf 

http://www.d2l.org/site/c.4dICIJOkGcISE/b.9314267/k.3928/Child_Sexual_Abuse_Statistics.htm 

Covenant Life Church Civil and Criminal Cases: 

http://www.washingtonian.com/2016/02/14/the-sex-abuse-scandal-that-devastated-a-suburban-megachurch-sovereign-grace-ministries/ 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFMeuBknW34  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJ-O67hwnvE  

Spotlight Quote: 

https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/movies/2016/02/28/oscarsawards/laA2QbfA2rTnWWk7qhp4yM/story.html 

DE Roman Catholic prevalence of alleged Priest abusers: 

http://www.snapnetwork.org/snap_press_releases/2010_press_releases/123010_new_figures_show_shockingly_widespread_abuse_in_de_md.htm 

Penn State Scandal: 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/09/penn-state-scandal-timeline-jerry-sandusky_n_1084204.html

http://crimewatchdaily.com/2015/11/11/exclusive-new-sandusky-child-abuse-accuser-steps-forward/

PA Bill Cosby Criminal Case:

https://news.yahoo.com/video/bill-cosby-charged-crime-due-095459220.html 

PA Roman Catholic Church Cover-up:

http://ncronline.org/news/accountability/pa-bishop-defends-his-handling-clergy-sex-abuse-allegations-grand-jury-report

VA Coach Case:

http://www.richmond.com/news/local/central-virginia/article_c40967b7-d89b-5189-a0e7-b512652caecc.html

DC Police Officer/Pastor Case:

http://www.fox5dc.com/news/1645242-story

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/ex-dc-police-officer-and-pastor-sentenced-in-sexual-abuse-of-two-teens/2016/02/26/a242b760-dcad-11e5-81ae-7491b9b9e7df_story.html

WV Pedophile Case:

http://www.rawstory.com/2015/04/west-virginia-judge-orders-victims-to-pay-half-of-sex-abusers-legal-fees-in-mormon-church-cover-up-suit/

http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150421/GZ04/150429951/

Vice President Biden Quote:

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/best-quotes-2016-oscars-871261

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