Bochetto & Lentz Attorneys Represent Abuse Victims in Jehovah’s Witness Case
Statutes of limitations are legal limits on the amount of time that victims have to take legal action. They have long frustrated victims of child sexual abuse who were too young to speak for themselves, or too intimidated and therefore were prevented from getting the justice they deserved. But on Wednesday, August 14th, New York’s Child Victims Act went into effect, providing a one-year, one-time-only chance for victims of child sexual abuse to file claims against both institutions that harbored abusers and the abusers themselves, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. While thousands of claims are expected, one that has already been filed by Bochetto & Lentz is expected to make national headlines: the firm’s Gavin P. Lentz and Kiersty DeGroote are representing sisters Lynn Haggan and Tarah Bird in their complaint against the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and its Watchtower Bible and Tract Societies of Pennsylvania and New York, and their father, Donald Nicolson. The lawsuit accuses the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization of a “widespread and massive scheme to cover up childhood sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses institution and its officers.”
The filing in the Superior Court of New Jersey details what happened to the girls when they were children. It tells of their father’s history as an Elder within the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and of decades of abuse of them as minors. It levels charges against the Jehovah’s Witness organization of having being fully aware of his abuse of them and other young women, yet allowing him to remain in his position of power and forbidding reports of his crimes to police. It also accuses the church of having turned on the girls themselves and pressuring them into suggesting that they bore responsibility for the abuse that they suffered.
According to the filing, the Jehovah’s Witness’ had a written “two-witness policy” that stated that without two witnesses to sexual abuse, no finding of guilt was possible. The group also specifically discourages contacting the police regarding charges against its members. It was only when a church member who was also a state trooper reported the abuse to authorities that action was taken and Nicolson’s abuse was reported, yet even after that time he was not removed from the church. He abused 4-year-old Tarah during family visits to him in prison, and upon his release the church allowed him to maintain his position as Elder, as well as continued access to her and other minor females.
The sisters’ accusations echo those uncovered by the Hearst Television National Investigative Unit, which recently conducted a yearlong investigation of alleged child sexual assault and coverups by the religious organization. On behalf of Lynn Haggan and Tarah Bird, Bochetto & Lentz are pursuing multiple counts of negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and infliction of emotional distress against the organization, as well as counts of infliction of emotional distress, assault, and battery against their father. We are seeking compensation for the harms that the women suffered as children and continue to suffer as adults.
If you are a victim of child sexual abuse and you believe that it is too late for you to get the justice you deserve, you should be aware that many states are following New York’s example and passing laws that waive statute of limitations restrictions for a limited period of time. For information on what options are available to you, contact us today.