The LA Times reports that:
Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have given some childhood sex abuse victims more time to file lawsuits, after a heated opposition campaign led by the Catholic Church that stretched from Capitol hallways to Los Angeles church pews.
In an unusually detailed three-page veto message released Saturday, the Democratic governor, a former Jesuit seminarian, said the bill raised questions of equal treatment of public and private employers. Pointing to a centuries-long tradition of limiting the period when legal claims can be filed, Brown said institutions should feel secure that "past acts are indeed in the past and not subject to further lawsuits."
He also argued that the legislation, which would have in part lifted the statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims for one year to allow some childhood victims to file lawsuits, was "unfair" because it singled out private organizations, such as Catholic dioceses and the Boy Scouts. Public schools would not have been affected by the bill, something Brown called "a significant inequity."
As I explained in a column for Tidings, SB 131 was fundamentally flawed and not just for the reason cited by the Governor:
By extending the period within which suits may be brought indefinitely, and thus raising the specter of litigation based on decades-old events, SB 131 is completely antithetical to the proposition that litigation should be based on “reasonably fresh evidence.” ...
SB 131 breaks faith with assurances given by the Legislature 10 years ago when it enacted SB 1779 (Burton), a one-time, one-year lifting of the statute of limitations for all of 2003 that allowed any victim of sexual abuse — regardless of how long ago it occurred — a second chance to file a lawsuit. SB 131 thus would revive claims for an unprecedented third time. ...
SB 131 is further flawed by its fundamental unfairness. SB 131 covers incidents of abuse that may have taken place in private schools, not public schools, so the 92 percent of California children who attend public schools aren’t covered. This discriminates against both public school children and operators of private schools. Why do public schools and teachers get a free ride, while their students get no relief and their private school counterparts face potentially staggering liability?
The financial impact cannot be ignored. As I pointed out in my law review article, The Bishop's Alter Ego: Enterprise Liability and the Catholic Priest Sex Abuse Scandal,(9) unlimited liability exposure for the Catholic Church will "impede, if not destroy, the ability of these ministries to serve the needs of their congregants. Indeed, the mere threat of liability might do so: 'Both church and society will suffer if the continuation of ministries prompted by compassion — ministries often involving risks — is stopped short by the nervous calculation of legal liabilities.'” (10)
As such, SB 131’s elimination of statutes of limitation raises serious concerns about the ability of religious organizations to freely exercise their religion, and thus has very serious implications for the free exercise rights that are supposed to be protected by the First Amendment.
I'm glad the Governor did the right thing. He didn't listen to trial lawyer front groups like SNAP. Instead, he prevented the trial lawyers who were behind this legislation from getting an unfair windfall. At the same time, however, I remain furious with Assemblymember Adrin Nazrian -- who represents my district -- for having voted for this fundamentally flawed bill.