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Archdiocese of Hartford Makes Case Against Future Priest Sexual Abuse Lawsuits

Sep 22, 2014

The Archdiocese of Hartford is hoping to stem the tide of lawsuits against priests accused of child sexual abuse.

In 2002, the General Assembly passed legislation that retroactively extended the statute of limitations for lawsuits filed by victims of sexual abuse from 17 years to 30 years, because it often takes decades for victims of sexual abuse to comes to terms with their abuse come forward. Lawyers for the Archdiocese of Hartford say that extension is unconstitutional, and they're using the case of Jacob Doe to argue their point.

Not his real name, Doe and a friend claim they were repeatedly molested by Father Ivan Ferguson and Ferguson's boyfriend in the early 1980s at a Derby School. Ferguson died in 2002.

Lawyers for Doe say the Archdiocese was aware of previous instances of Ferguson molesting children, and acted recklessly when they moved Ferguson to the Derby school. In 2012, a jury in Waterbury awarded $1 million to Jacob Doe.

The Hartford Archdiocese appealed that award to the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Attorney Wesley Horton, representing the church, reminded the justices on Monday in oral arguments that more and more states are overturning retroactive statute of limitation laws. "One of the major aspects of the rule of law," he told the justices, "is people should know what their rights are, and they don't get changed substantively, retroactively. That, in my opinion, is why the cases are going our way, and why this court should add its name to the vast majority of states that agree with the defendant's position."

The diocese also argues that the trial judge in the original case erred by not allowing an expert witness to testify on behalf of the defendant.  

Attorney Hugh Hughes, representing Jacob Doe, told the justices no expert witness was needed in this case. "The issue is a straightforward issue that ordinary jurors do not need expert testimony to understand," Hughes said to the Connecticut Supreme Court. "There's no science here. What do you do with a known six-time child molester? That's not a scientific question."

It could takes months for the Connecticut Supreme Court to issue a ruling in the case.

Watch CT-N's footage of the oral argument below: