Capitol Alert

Jerry Brown vetoes childhood sex-abuse lawsuit bill

For the second year, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation Tuesday to give victims more time to seek civil damages against third parties in childhood sex abuse cases – typically private or public employers of the alleged perpetrators.

The Democratic governor, though, signed separate legislation increasing the criminal statute of limitations against perpetrators in such cases.

State Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, the author of both measures, has said the civil damages bill, Senate Bill 924, responded to Brown’s lengthy veto of last year’s Senate Bill 131. Supporters said that allowing childhood victims to seek damages up to the age of 40, instead of the current 26 years old, would correct laws adopted in 1990, 1998 and 2002.

“Changing the law allows more adult survivors of childhood sex abuse to gain a measure of justice by pursing civil damages against their assailants,’’ Beall said in a statement after the Legislature sent the bill to Brown last month. The Catholic Church and nonprofit organizations led opposition to the measure, contending that it “pays lip service to the interests of victims of abuse” while exempting state employees from its provisions. The measure passed the Legislature largely along party lines.

In a message accompanying his SB 924 veto, Brown, a former Jesuit seminarian, wrote that “statutes of limitations exist as a matter of fundamental fairness.”

“As I wrote last year, there comes a time when an individual or organization should be secure in the reasonable expectation that past acts are indeed in the past and not subject to further lawsuits. With the passage of time, evidence may be lost or disposed of, memories fade and witnesses move away or die,” Brown wrote. “There needs to be a compelling reason to lengthen the statute of limitations for civil claims against third parties. I do not see evidence of that here.”

Senate Bill 926, the criminal statute of limitations measure, passed unanimously and takes effect Jan. 1. It increases the statue of limitations from the victim’s 28th birthday to his or her 40th birthday.