The Child Victims Act in NY and VT, and Sex Abuse Claims Against The Boy Scouts of America
Attorney Tom Mortati of Martin, Harding & Mazzotti, LLP is on the radio with WVMT discussing claims of abuse against The Boy Scouts of America, which recently filed for bankruptcy. He also discusses the Child Victims Act in both Vermont and New York.
Please give it a listen or read the transcript below.
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Marcus: We’re joined by Tom Mortati. He’s an attorney with Martin, Harding & Mazzotti. We’re talking about a story that has come up in the “Burlington Free Press” as the Boy Scouts…we know we’ve heard these stories before in regards to the Catholic Church and other organizations, but the Boy Scouts coming up again as abuse claims are being filed. Tom, tell us about what’s going on right now. I saw in this article that there are 10 Vermont claims right now, but nationally, we’re talking about hundreds and potentially thousands of claims.
Tom: You’re right. And good morning, Marcus and Kurt. Glad to be here on the program. So, yes, actually, nationally, well beyond Vermont, there are thousands of claims that have been filed against the Boy Scouts, the national association. Something you touched on is that, you know, it was earlier this year back in February that that organization actually filed for bankruptcy protection, which was the focus of the news article that you were just referring to.
Marcus: And we saw the Catholic Church do the same in some ways. They’re using the bankruptcy filing in order to protect themselves, but does it really protect them? I mean obviously, there’s criminal law here, but there’s also the civil suit that can also be filed. It just sounds like they’re trying to duck and weave paying their fair share to these victims.
Tom: So, there’s a couple of different things that overlap each other there in your question. So, and let me just touchback on with the Catholic Church, you’ve had a variety of dioceses around the country that have filed for bankruptcy in response to claims against those dioceses. And again, a diocese will cover, you know, for example, there’s an Upstate New York or Vermont diocese that will cover several counties or part of a state. The Boy Scouts national organization, you know, covers the entire country, but then underneath them, you have the different scout councils, which are technically separate legal entities.
So, a couple of things, you know, the Boy Scouts, when they filed for bankruptcy back in February of this year, they issued a statement in which they said they felt that they had, and I’ll quote here, “A social and moral responsibility to equitably compensate victims.” And they went on to describe how they were going to try to do that by setting up a victims’ compensation fund through the bankruptcy program. So, while they’re trying to protect…and listen, the bankruptcy is all about protecting what’s reported to be a billion or more dollars in assets that the national organization has. The question’s gonna be how much of that money becomes part of the victims’ compensation fund that gets set up through the bankruptcy court and eventually it gets divvied up amongst however many victims and survivors really have filed claims?
Marcus: And Tom, Vermont, I think, is supposed to have one of the strongest child protection laws in regard to the Boy Scouts and other entities in regard to statute of limitation laws. How does that work in Vermont and in other places as well?
Tom: So, good question. So, you know, Vermont, the governor signed Vermont’s Child Victims Act May 28th last year. So, it’s coming up on the one-year anniversary tomorrow, went into effect July 1st. Vermont was very interesting because in theirs, they did not put in a window or a new, let’s call it, statute of limitations within which you have to file. Contrast that with New York. New York filed it, or excuse me, passed the act in February of 2019 with an effective date of the middle of August of 2019 and they initially had a one-year window, in New York that was, to file any of these claims from past sex abuse, you know, however many years ago, going back 20, 30, 40 years. The governor, Governor Cuomo of New York, recently extended that an additional 5 months into 2021 as a result of the COVID shutdowns of the court system here in New York. But Vermont is very different. They were very open and there’s no window on it. However, the bankruptcy filing, excuse me, with the Boy Scouts, it does have a date by which, you know, any survivor of this type of abuse, for the Boy Scouts that is, has to file a claim. And that’s in mid-November, I believe the 16th.
Marcus: And why is this potentially the last time for victims to come forth to get potentially a measure of justice? Why is this maybe the last chance?
Tom: So, in looking at the Boy Scouts, because of the bankruptcy that they filed, the bankruptcy court, it’s a federal court, it basically takes over all of the various claims that get filed around the country for abuse through the Boy Scouts of America National Association. That one bankruptcy court then controls everything. And they set up a process by which, again, a compensation fund get set up. But they also are gonna set up a timeframe by which anybody who hasn’t yet filed a claim has to do so within the bankruptcy court. Part of that is through the machinations of bankruptcy law where, you know, whoever the entity is that’s filing, and in this case the Boy Scouts, I believe they filed chapter 11, which is a reorganization. They’re trying to protect assets. So, then you merge from bankruptcy and proceed on, you know, in life and put all this behind them if you will.
You know, the focus of not only my law firm but several other law firms is making sure that enough of those assets are put aside to make sure these people would get appropriately compensated. And again, through the machinations of bankruptcy law, there has to be, and there is a process and an end date that gets set up. So, somebody in Vermont, for example, or anywhere else or anywhere in your listening audience, you know, thinks they had a claim against the Boy Scouts, they can contact us, they can contact anybody. I just want them to reach out to some resources, plenty of law firms out there that are working on cases like this to make sure that they don’t miss this window that gets imposed by the bankruptcy court.
Marcus: Right, right. And Tom, what’s the process if somebody comes up with a claim from decades ago? Obviously, someone can’t just make a claim and they’re automatically handed a check. There’s gotta be a process to vet out the claimant, I assume.
Tom: Yeah. So, and what happens is each one of those claims that ends up going through the bankruptcy process through the victims’ compensation fund, there essentially is gonna be a mediator or mediators appointed. They will look at each of these individual claims and see their strengths, weaknesses, you know, what happened to these people. Some stories are horrific. Some are not quite as horrific. They’re all terrible though. And then, you know, what really, unfortunately, happens in some senses that it comes down to really a dollars and cents okay, claim A is worth X number of dollars, claim B…but they will go through a process of vetting each one of those that actually got filed and then figure out, okay, how much does each individual victim or survivor really get?
Marcus: So, Tom then, let me ask you this, I mean for the victim to reach out and to start the process, how do they feel like they themselves…and this is probably a difficult question for you to answer. How does the victim themselves feel like they will be heard and justice in some regard is done, especially when they’re just not one of one, they’re one of thousands?
Tom: Well, they have to understand…And one thing, by the way, Marcus and Kurt, we like to call them survivors. They were victims 20, 30 years ago, sometimes longer. They’re survivors now.
Marcus: Good point.
Tom: But how they can be heard, by reaching out, there’s plenty of resources available, again, various law firms. Well, be one of those voices, be one of those people to come forward. And the stories are almost always the same and it’s horrific. It’s depressing to be quite honest with you. Now, you know, how these kids were groomed, they were set up and were abused. But if they come forward, they can be part of the process and they can have a voice and have their story heard and be counted.
Tom: Tom, thank you so much for the insight and the answers. We really do appreciate your time. Tom Mortati, he’s an attorney with Martin, Harding & Mazzotti. If you wanna get your questions answered and get the assistance you need, call them or reach out at 1800law1010.com.