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Mediator awarding settlements to those who claim abuse by Rochester Diocese

February 14, 2019 05:38 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) -- If you were the victim of sex abuse as a child, you will now get the chance to publically name and sue your abuser.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act on Thursday.

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The law allows victims of childhood sex abuse to file criminal charges against abusers until they turn 28. Previously, the cut off was age 23.  

It also allows victims to seek civil action until the age of 55 and it opens up a one-time, one-year look back window to allow all victims to file civil action regardless of how long ago the abuse took place. 

The Rochester Diocese has set up a mediation process for alleged victims in anticipation of an onslaught of possible lawsuits.

An independent mediator is hearing allegations of abuse to determine if victims should be compensated and how much they should get.

That mediator, a former state Supreme Court justice, has already started handing down decisions.

So far, ten alleged victims have spoken with former state Judge Robert Lunn.

"One of my tasks initially was to determine credibility and I have found that to be the easiest of the jobs I've had to do," he tells News10NBC.  

Leander James represents a majority of the victims that have had their cases heard so far.

"It gives these folks a forum to confidentially talk about what happens to them and, in doing so, I can tell you that the survivors of sexual abuse really reclaim their power," he tells News10NBC.  

The Rochester Diocese says it will pay whatever Judge Lunn determines is fair.  

This week, Lunn awarded the first victim to file a claim under this process, a $125,000 settlement.

That victim will now determine whether to take it or leave it.

"These claimants, the alleged victims are not bound by anything I do, they can walk away and say we're not interested," Lunn says.

The claimants now have another option if they decide they don't like the settlement reached by the mediator.

Under the new Child Victims Act, they can file a civil case but the burden of proof in a courtroom is much higher.

"Memories fade, evidence becomes stale, it's hard sometimes to bring back to a jury exactly what happened. Many of the alleged perpetrators are now deceased," Lunn says.

This means, even victims planning to use the new one-year look back window to sue their alleged abusers will have an uphill battle that may take years. 

"By the time this is tested in our courts and when I say courts, not just the trial courts but the appellate court that I once served upon, I think there are a lot of legal arguments that have to be kind of tested out," Lunn adds.

An attorney for the Rochester Diocese says that victims who accept settlements using mediation will not be required to sign confidentiality agreements.  

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