Child Victims Act allows for lawsuits to be filed much longer after incidents

Kris McDaniel-Miccio

After years of resistance from New York State lawmakers, the newly Democratic-controlled legislature has passed a bill that extends the statute of limitations for youthful victims of sexual assault to bring suit against their abusers and against the church, school, or other institution where the abuse occurred. While this change is good news for people who are ready to confront perpetrators, the process of bringing such a suit can be daunting.

Kingston attorney Kris McDaniel-Miccio wants to help sexual abuse victims take advantage of the new law, given that preparation for a suit may include such challenges as marshaling evidence, setting down detailed and painful memories, and identifying and finding witnesses. She is seeking a venue for a workshop that would assist with the process, in collaboration with such experts as Michael Dowd, who has brought cases against Catholic clergy, and Karla DiGiroloma, founder and first director of the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.

The Child Victims Act, which was signed into law this February, applies to sexual abuse that occurred when the victim was under 18 years of age. Previously, a suit could be brought only until the victim turned 23. Now that limit is set at 55 for civil cases and 28 for criminal suits. And, for the first year the law is in effect, a plaintiff of any age may bring civil suit for abuse that occurred before the age of 18. The Act enables prosecution not only of the sexual abuser but also of every person and institution whose negligence enabled the abuser’s misconduct. A key provision of the law is that people who sue the state are no longer required to file a notice of claim.

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Because the crime may have occurred many years ago, it’s not easy to assemble the evidence required to demonstrate that one has a case. McDaniel-Miccio, a former prosecutor and law professor, described her interview with an individual who was abused four decades ago at a high school. “We went through a series of questions,” she explained. “Who was the principal at the time? Who was the coach? Who was in the gym at the same time as you? I try to trigger their memory so they can figure out the specifics of what happened and who was responsible. What time of year was it? Was it snowing or raining?” Many people have avoided thinking about their memories, which are still present but have to be drawn out.

Conjuring up painful memories can have a re-traumatizing effect. “Attorneys handling cases of this type may want to refer the client to a therapist, counselor, or someone who follows the client’s religious beliefs,” said McDaniel-Miccio. “They also have to be prepared in case the information becomes public. Who don’t they want to know? Maybe they never told their mother.”

It also may be necessary to find out what rules were in place in the school district or other institution at the time the crime occurred. “If they violated their own internal procedures, that gives you a case.”

 

Kavanaugh hearings were the impetus

The issue became important to McDaniel-Miccio during the confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was testifying that he had assaulted her in college. “I had memories of things I hadn’t thought of for years,” said McDaniel-Miccio. Unable to prosecute her own case because it didn’t occur in New York State, she has turned to helping other sexual assault victims.

“I’ve skinned my knees on a lot of political issues,” she said, “and I can see the results when there’s sustained work.” From working on the same-sex marriage campaign in Ireland to demanding equal pay for women and men, she’s fought and won battles.

McDaniel-Miccio grew up in the Bronx and lived in Woodstock for six years in the 1990s, while teaching at Albany Law School, where she started a family violence clinic. Having converted from Catholicism to Judaism, she attended the Woodstock Jewish Congregation and led workshops on reconciling feminism with certain elements of Judaism.

She went on to teach full-time at law schools in California and in Denver, Colorado. Towards the end of her 16-year stint in Denver, she discovered male law professors at the school were being paid at a higher rate than female professors. The women joined forces to sue the university and won.

A year ago, McDaniel-Miccio moved back to the area and started a law firm in Kingston, Miccio McDaniel Pelosi. In addition to specializing in sexual abuse cases, she represents people seeking divorce, survivors of domestic violence and others wrongly charged with domestic violence. “It’s important not just to know what the law is but to figure out what to do with it,” she said. “You have to make it real and make it a tool of accountability. I opened a law firm so people can finally get closure to an event that shouldn’t have happened, that stole a piece of their childhood.”

Interested in attending or hosting a workshop on preparing a sexual abuse case? Contact Kris McDaniel-Miccio at kmiccio@mmplaw.org.