Lawmaker Margaret Markey says Poly Prep Sex Abuse Scandal Should Lead to Elimination of Statute of Limitations for Victims

New York state assemblywoman Margaret Markey has introduced legislation since 2006 that would permit victims of childhood sexual abuse to seek criminal charges and file civil lawsuits until their 28th birthday.

But the Queens Democrat said the Poly Prep Country Day School lawsuit and other sex abuse scandals have pushed her to call for a complete end to the criminal and civil statute of limitations when she introduces the Child Victims Act later this month.

“As this case demonstrates, adding a few extra years to current law is not enough,” Markey said of the Poly Prep scandal.

As the Daily News first reported last week, the attorney who represented the 12 men who last week settled the explosive lawsuit which accused Poly Prep administrators of covering up decades of sexual abuse by longtime football coach Phil Foglietta said he welcomes the change in the legislation.

“I think the statute of limitations for sexual abuse victims is one of the most absurd and asinine statutes on the books in New York state,” Orangeburg lawyer Kevin Mulhearn said. “It does not reflect the reality that for many survivors of sexual abuse, it takes decades to realize the extent of the damage they have suffered.”

Current state law requires survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file a case by the time they are 23 years old. Previous versions of Markey’s Child Victims Act would have extended the deadline by five years.

The Poly Prep lawsuit, as well as sex-abuse scandals at Penn State, Syracuse and at other institutions, showed that most victims aren’t prepared to address the damage they have suffered until they are in their 40s or 50s, said Mike Armstrong, a spokesman for Markey.

“The world has changed,” Armstrong said. “It’s time to confront the issue in New York state.”

Armstrong said advances in DNA science now make it possible for law-enforcement agencies to prosecute sexual predators who would have escaped justice in the past.

The latest version of the Child Victims Act will retain a controversial one-year window that would allow sex-abuse victims who had been previously barred from bringing civil litigation because of the statute of limitations to file lawsuits.

“There is no limit on what is so often a lifetime of suffering and anguish for victims of child sex abuse,” Markey said. “Likewise, there must be no limit on the ability of society to prosecute abusers and to hold accountable the institutions and organizations who protect and hide them.”

The Catholic Church and other institutions have vociferously opposed Markey’s bill. Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference, said he could not comment on Markey’s latest bill because he has not yet seen it. The church, he said, does support legislation introduced by State Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island) that extends the statute of limitations.

Poust said Catholic leaders do not oppose extending the statute of limitations, but they do oppose the window that would allow lawsuits to be filed by victims. Poust said the window is discriminatory against private and religious institutions because victims abused by public school teachers and other public employees have to file a notice of claims months after they are assaulted, he said.

The News reported last week that the explosive suit filed against Poly Prep in 2009 — which claimed officials knew their coach was a sexual predator, but ignored complaints because they didn’t want to jeopardize the institution’s athletic reputation and fund-raising efforts — had been settled. Terms of the settlement have not been disclosed.

Mulhearn and several of his clients appeared at a news conference in Albany last February to urge lawmakers to pass Markey’s bill.

Poly Prep attorneys argued that the suit, filed in Brooklyn federal court, should have been dismissed because it was filed long after the statute of limitations had expired. But U.S. District Court Judge Frederic Block, in what may be a watershed moment for sexual abuse survivors, ruled in August that portions of suit could proceed because administrators may have lied about when they said they did not become aware of the abuse allegations until 1991.

“The law now allows institutions to hide behind the statue of limitations and profit from their own misconduct and cover-ups,” Mulhearn said.