Once again, Governor Jerry Brown has failed survivors of sexual abuse in California. As he did in 2013, Brown vetoed a bill that would have provided opportunities for sex abuse survivors in California to seek justice in the courts.
The bill, written by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), would have allowed victims to file abuse claims until they are 40 years old. It also would have permitted those who have repressed memories of abuse to sue within five years of unearthing the cause of their trauma.
“I’m exceptionally disappointed that even after the #MeToo movement, after the [Brett] Kavanaugh hearings, that the governor isn’t doing what he can to reduce harm caused by sexual abuse,” said Tim Lennon, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Under current law, victims can sue a third party that may have ignored or covered up abuse — such as a private school or a church — until they are 26 years old or three years after coming to terms with repressed memories, whichever occurs later.
In explaining his veto, Governor Brown noted, “There comes a time when an individual or organization should be secure in the reasonable expectation that past acts are indeed in the past and not subject to further lawsuits,” Brown wrote in the 2013 memo. “With the passage of time, evidence may be lost of disposed of, memories fade and witnesses move away or die.”
While what he says is true in most instances, survivors of sexual abuse are a unique exception to this principle. Research has shown that most survivors of childhood sexual abuse are not capable of coming forward until many years after the abuse occurred, sometimes it takes decades. In some tragic instances, the survivor never comes forward.
In cases where the abuse involves a clergy person such as in the Catholic priest abuse cases, the trauma is intensified because the perpetrator is supposed to represent God to the survivor. The breach of such trust causes untold psychic damage that is not easily or quickly understood or assessed. The transcendent dimension of the abuse should have allowed Governor Brown to recognize that justice is not served by upholding the traditional statute of limitations in such cases.
One has to wonder the influence Brown’s lifelong Catholicism and Jesuit training on his decision. In a 2015 interview with the Sacramento Bee, Brown had this to say about his faith:
“I think the formation that I’ve undergone growing up in the Catholic faith, the Catholic religion, puts forth a world that’s orderly, that has purpose and that ultimately is a positive,” Brown said. “And that’s very helpful when you look at a world that looks very much the opposite, in terms of the wars, the corruption and the breakdown. And so even though from an intellectual point of view it looks very dark, in another sense I have great faith and confidence that there is a way forward. And I would attribute that in some way to my Catholic upbringing and training.”
Of course, one could just as easily argue that as a Catholic, Brown is duty bound to bring healing to those who are suffering and comfort to those who are afflicted. In this case, Governor Brown did not choose the better part. For that, he shouldn’t be rewarded.
Admitted to practice law in all federal multidistrict litigation courts, the California State Bar and the Florida Bar. His philosophy is to provide aggressive, quality representations and seek fair compensation for individuals and their families who have suffered injury, death, or sexual abuse.