Martin Nussbaum, of Rothgerber, Johnson & Lyons in Colorado Springs, has handled dozens of cases nationwide involving the Catholic Church over the years.
The law office’s Religious Institutions Group , which is co-chaired by Nussbaum, tackles a wide variety of cases, including those involving sexual abuse prevention, policies, investigations, litigation and legislative advocacy. Nussbaum was the lead attorney last year for the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado, which prevailed in the $17 million property trial for Grace Church downtown against a Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) parish now known as St. George’s Anglican Church.
Nussbaum says it’s become a billion dollar industry to sue the Catholic Church on alleged sex abuse by priests.
“Almost all cases in litigation today involve allegations where the conduct occured some time between 1960 and 1990,” he wrote me in an email. “Since 2002, we have litigated cases where the conduct was alleged to have occured in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Very few thereafter. This is because the Catholic Church largely resolved the problem by 1992 ….”
Nussbaum told me that the traumatic repression of memory theory – which posits that those abused have repressed the memory of the event for decades, which is why they waited years and years before suing the church — is based on “junk science,” though he didn’t elaborate.
He talked about the network of claimants and attorneys getting rich off of these claims. Claimant attorneys, he said, typically take 40 percent of the judgments. He also lamented how easy it is to sway a jury in a civil case. “A jury will hear a claimant emotionally and in great detail describe what happened, and it pulls at the heart strings,” Nussbaum told me. “On the other side, the (alleged) offender is dead, the vicars general is dead …. Exonerating evidence is extremely difficult to come up with.” In civil cases, all a claimant attorney needs to do is sway a majority of jurors. “Tipping the scale (of justice) with a feather is enough,” he said.
On March 17, Nussbaum made a presentation to to the Judiciary Committe of the Connecticut General Assembly on the proposed Bill 5473, which would eliminate time limits to file civil lawsuits for sexual abuse of a minor against Catholic and other non-public institutions.
Below are some of the points Nussbaum made, taken from notes from his prepared talk March 17. Nussbaum was speaking on behalf of the Connecticut Public Affairs Conference. His theme was that the Catholic Church does not have an out-sized problem regarding sexual abuse scandals.
* On Public Schools: “112 Connecticut public school teachers and coaches have lost their licenses due to sexual misconduct with students since 1992. These include the sex ring of five coaches at
Southington High School who required sex from girls playing on the athletic teams over a
20 year period. Nationally, the teaching credentials of 2,570 public school educators
were ‘revoked, denied, surrendered or sanctioned from 2001 through 2005 following
allegations of sexual misconduct’ with students. The U.S. Department of Education
estimates that more than 4.5 million students are subject to sexual misconduct by a public
school employee between kindergarten and 12th grade.
* On Juvenile Detention: “While Connecticut state agencies refused to provide information in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the U.S. Department of Justice study found that
12% of youth in state juvenile facilities nationally (3,220 persons) and 14.6% in
Connecticut reported an incident of sexual victimization during the previous year. 2,370
of these persons or 10.3% reported that the abuse involved facility staff, and almost all
were women staff.
* On Foster Care: 19 Connecticut foster parents, paid by the State, engaged in childhood sexual abuse since
2006. Nine of these occurred in 2009. In 2004, former Connecticut State Representative, Jefferson B. Davis, was convicted of sexually abusing a foster child in his care.
* On the Department of Corrections: “50 Connecticut Department of Corrections employees perpetrated sexual abuse on inmates or parolees since 1999.”
“This data reveals a substantial, current problem of childhood sexual abuse in Connecticut
government settings. It is a much larger and more current problem than the problem Catholic
institutions largely resolved by 1992. There is no reason why the law of Connecticut should
discriminate between childhood sexual abuse claimants based upon whether they were injured in
a governmental setting or a Catholic setting.
“I have also attached appendices regarding: (1) the relative number of childhood sexual
abuse allegations against Catholic institutions, (2) the fact that childhood sexual abuse claims
brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are not viable when brought against public schools and other
government institutions, and (3) why sexual abuse claimants do not require extra time to come
forward with their claims. I am willing to speak to those subjects if you wish.
“We request that you reject RB 5473 and also that you revise Connecticut law in a manner
that is ‘All In, All Even:’ that the law treat public and private entities alike, beginning with the
elimination of sovereign immunity or the enactment of charitable immunity; that the law cease to
have retroactive effect; and that the law serve the cause of prevention by promoting earlier
reporting of abuse so perpetrators can be removed.”
Nussbaum questions claimants’ claims that repressed memory of sexual abuse requires decades to process. Here’s what Nussbaum told me on the issue: ”We have litigated cases where the conduct was alleged to have occurred in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Very few thereafter.” Nussbaum said science is beginning to discover that repressed memory claims are based on “junk science.” He calls it “the myth and financial exploitation of the traumatic repression of memory” claim.
Below is Appendix 3 of Nussbaum’s presentation to the Connecticut General Assembly on repressed memory of sexual abuse.
“Connecticut law presently permits sexual abuse claimants to delay coming forward with
legal claims 30 years after they reach the age of majority. Some contend that, because of their
psychological injuries, they need longer. The data suggests otherwise.
“Since January 2002, there have been twelve major spikes in the number of claims
filed by claimants of childhood sexual abuse: the over 1,000 cases filed against Catholic
institutions during the massive press coverage in 2002; the almost 1,100 plaintiffs who
came forward in California during 2003 when the statute of limitation had been
suspended; the 81 plaintiffs who came forward when Connecticut lengthened its statute
of limitations in 2002; the plaintiffs who came forward when Delaware suspended its
statute of limitation for a two-year period, and the large numbers of new post-petition
claims filed in the bankruptcies of the dioceses of Tucson, Portland, Spokane,
Davenport, San Diego, Fairbanks, and Wilmington just before the bar date; and this past
year, the quintupling of claims against the Society of Jesus Oregon, Province in its
bankruptcy just before imposition of the bar date.
“Are we to suppose that these periods were collective moments of clarity when
memories became unrepressed and claimants–all together–gained the strength to
confront their oppressors? Or was something else going on?
“Neither delayed emotional strength nor repressed memories explain the massing
of these claims. They are explained, instead, by a rule of economics: when the price paid
for an activity increases, the amount of that activity increases.”