Watchtower was handed some good news yesterday as it emerged that Governor Jerry Brown has refused to sign SB 131 into Californian law.
As reported on this site, SB 131 would have made it possible for more victims of child abuse in California to come forward whose cases currently fall outside the Statute of Limitation – meaning that their abuse happened too long ago for the law to do anything as things stand.
California does seem to be a hotspot for child molestation lawsuits against Watchtower, with the Zalkin Law Firm handling 5 of its 11 cases against Watchtower in this state alone. And Irwin Zalkin indicated to me a few weeks ago that more lawsuits would have been filed in California if SB 131 had passed, but Governor Brown has dashed any such plans by vetoing the bill and issuing the following statement.
“What (SB 131) does do is go back to the only group, i.e. private institutions, that have already been subjected to the unusual ‘one year revival period’ and makes them, and them alone, subject to suit indefinitely. This extraordinary extension of the statute of limitations, which legislators chose not to apply to public institutions, is simply too open-ended and unfair.”
In reporting this development, the media has tellingly highlighted the fact that Brown studied to become a Catholic priest as a young man. This will doubtless fuel debate as to Brown’s motivations for turning down the bill.
Kathleen Conti, a keen supporter of SB 131, expressed her sorrow this morning. “It is extremely disappointing that our Governor has allowed powerful deep-pocketed religious leaders, influential religious lobbyists and law firms to cloud the real issue here, which is the right of abuse victims to pursue justice for crimes committed against them,” she said.
“Subpoenaed documents clearly show that certain religious institutions have been fully aware of the danger posed to children by pedophiles within their own ranks, but have kept things secret and handled matters internally instead of warning parents and letting the proper authorities handle perpetrators. I find it distressing that congregants will continue to not only attend but also financially support such morally bankrupt institutions who claim to have God’s blessing while at the same time being guilty of concealing crimes against children.”
This development has also proved a bitter blow for John Kirby, who was hoping to work with Irwin Zalkin in filing suit against Watchtower if the bill was passed. After describing himself as “shocked and very disappointed” this morning, John told me that his worst fears about Governor Brown have now been realized. “With our Governor Jerry Brown being a devout Catholic I’m not surprised. The Catholic church with their voice, money and power won this round.”
And Irwin Zalkin bemoaned the role of the Catholic Church in lobbying against the bill, with expensive lobbying firms reportedly being hired to undermine SB 131’s chances of being signed. Bishops are also said to have visited the State offices, and there are even reports of priests trying to turn parishioners against the bill from the pulpit.
“The Catholic Church spared no expense to keep the doors of justice closed to victims of sexual abuse in their fight against this bill,” Zalkin commented on his firm’s official website. “Maintaining their veil of secrecy over the abuses of the past was more important to the church than a fair and open path to justice for the victims harmed by the perpetrators who were protected for years by the church.”
It certainly looks like the Catholic Church has proved an unlikely ally in riding to Watchtower’s rescue over this bill. But with Zalkin still representing 11 clients against Watchtower, and the Candace Conti case appeal still ongoing, they are still a long way from getting off the hook.