During the last few weeks, the lives of everyone in our nation have changed dramatically as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. As we are all aware, this is a rapidly evolving situation with new actions being taken daily to attempt to control the virus outbreak.
Like everyone, the Zalkin Law Firm has taken steps to protect the safety of our staff and we have closed our physical offices effective March 16th for an indefinite period. Our lawyers and staff will, however, continue to work remotely which should allow us to continue communications with existing and potential clients and to work seamlessly until life returns to normal. As courts around the country close or postpone case activity, we are still diligently working on everything we can to prepare for a return to business as usual, or something close to it. Although we are not in the office physically, our phone system is set up to deliver messages to us in real-time so we will be available to respond to any calls or questions from clients and others.
For potential clients seeking a free case evaluation, the best and fastest way to reach us is to submit an inquiry through our website. We will be continuing to evaluate new client inquiries and will respond as soon as we can to each one.
Our Team Is Still At Work During This Crisis
For the coming weeks and months, we will face a new reality in the legal system across the country. Just like other operations of government, Court business has been seriously disrupted by the crisis. As of March 17, 2020, here is a summary of the status of courts we are dealing with in California:
- The San Diego Superior Court has closed its doors until April 3, 2020.
- In Los Angeles, the courts have been closed from March 17-March 19. They will reopen on March 20 for emergency business only. Additional announcements are expected in the coming days.
- In the Bay Area, the unprecedented “shelter in place” order is certain to cause delays. In Contra Costa and Sonoma Counties, for example, most courts will be closed for the next two weeks.
- In San Francisco, the courts have continued all civil trials set to begin between March 17 and April 15 for 90 days. The clerk’s office is closed, though filings of new cases are being accepted through a dropbox.
Despite these extraordinary measures, work goes on. Our lawyers and staff continue to work, though mostly from home. We continue to do all the tasks necessary for the successful operation of a law office and to conduct business as normally as we can during this disruption. We would like to assure you that while we are not in the office physically, our phone system is set to deliver messages to us in real-time so we will be available to respond to any calls or questions. We also remain available via email.
We know you all have much greater priorities in keeping yourselves and your families safe and healthy, but we wanted to assure you that we will be continuing on as fully, and as safely, as possible under the circumstances. We appreciate everyone’s understanding as we try to navigate this new reality. Please stay safe and healthy, and we look forward to continuing to serve you all as best we can under the circumstances.
The Zalkin Law Firm: Case Progress Updates (as of 3/17/20)
California Catholic Church Cases
Now that the California statute of limitations has changed and cases may be filed against the Catholic Church numerous lawsuits have begun to be filed throughout the state based on conduct by abusive priests throughout the years. Our expectation is that hundreds of lawsuits will ultimately be filed against the various California Dioceses. California has a process, called coordination, that is intended to streamline litigation when one defendant is faced with so many claims.
Through the coordination process, we expect cases against the Catholic Church to be assigned to a small handful of judges.
- The present thinking is that cases involving the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of Orange will likely be assigned to one judge selected from a panel of judges in Los Angeles who are accustomed to handling complex cases.
- Cases involving the Dioceses of San Diego and San Bernardino will likely either be assigned to that same judge in Los Angeles or to a single judge in San Diego. Zalkin Law Firm Attorneys Irwin Zalkin and Devin Storey are working to resolve the placement of these cases as soon as possible.
- Finally, cases involving the Archdiocese of San Francisco, as well as the Dioceses of Fresno, Monterey, Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose, Santa Rosa, and Stockton will likely be assigned to one judge sitting in one of the populous Northern California counties.
There are several advantages to the coordination of cases. The first is that it reduces the risks of inconsistent rulings. Imagine if 100 lawsuits were assigned to 30 different judges. Those 30 judges could reasonably be expected to decide many important issues in inconsistent ways. By limiting the number of judges who will be ruling on legal issues, it makes for a more fair and consistent process. A second important aspect of coordination is that it allows the judge who is presiding over the cases to tailor the process to create the pressure needed to facilitate settlements. When cases appear on a judge’s docket, their goal is to resolve that case. Coordination allows a judge special tools to try to bring cases to settle.
Even under normal circumstances, aside from the current disruption of the legal system, this process is a lengthy one. During the coming weeks and months, our clients can expect to hear from our office for several purposes. And, as always, we encourage you to reach out to us anytime you have questions.
Boy Scouts of America Cases
As many of you already know the national Boy Scouts of America organization headquartered in Dallas, Texas has filed for bankruptcy protection with the federal Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. In the wake of potentially several thousand claims of child sexual abuse by scout volunteers over decades, BSA has elected to seek the protections afforded by a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.
Several of our clients have voiced concern that the filing of bankruptcy means that the BSA is attempting to avoid responsibility for the harm done to children. This is not the case. By filing a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy the BSA national has essentially effectuated a consolidation of all of the cases against it across the country into one location. By filing bankruptcy all cases in state courts are automatically stopped.
The BSA has and will serve notice to the lawyers of cases that have been filed that those cases have been removed to the bankruptcy court. The central issues that the bankruptcy court will be concerned with are to determine what are the assets of the BSA (how much is the BSA worth including real estate, cash, investments, and insurance); what is the value of the totality of child sexual abuse claims against it; and, how are claimants going to be compensated.
Now, a representative committee of child sexual abuse survivors has been officially formed and is referred to as the Tort Claimants Committee. The committee has hired Bankruptcy council (paid for by the debtor BSA) to represent the interests of the Committee and all child sexual abuse survivors with claims against the BSA.
That firm, Pachulski Stang Ziehl & Jones (“PSZJ”), is highly regarded across the country and has represented child sexual abuse claimants in almost all the Catholic Diocese bankruptcies around the country. Irwin Zalkin of our firm was appointed liaison council on behalf of 144 clergy abuse survivors in the San Diego Diocese Bankruptcy in 2007 and worked very closely with attorney James Stang of PSZJ in achieving $200,000,000 settlement in that bankruptcy on behalf of the 144 survivors.
The Committee is currently negotiating a stipulated injunction order that would stop all state court proceedings against BSA-related entities like the local BSA councils and troop charter organizations such as various churches, civic organizations, and schools until May of this year. In exchange for agreeing to this temporary injunction, the Committee is demanding that the financial status of all BSA local Councils and various charter organizations be disclosed to the Committee. The BSA is disputing that the assets of the BSA local councils or charter organizations should be included in calculating the assets of the BSA National. This will be a major bone of contention in this bankruptcy.
So for now, The Zalkin Law Firm is working very closely with Jim Stang of PSZJ and his team and will keep our BSA clients posted as things progress.
Jehovah’s Witnesses Cases
In New York, The Zalkin Law Firm has filed several JW cases under the New York Child Victims Act that has revived previously time barred cases for a period of one year as of August 2019.
Those cases have been under a court-ordered stay until earlier this month. A “stay” means all action on the cases have been stopped, while the courts try to determine how they are going to manage these new cases. Because of the stay, we have not been able to proceed with litigation. We are now preparing to move ahead in accordance with procedures and time frames issued by the courts.
These cases will be testing two new issues.
- First, are we able to sue the Governing Body and each of its members as an unincorporated association separate from the JW corporate entities such as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., The Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Inc. or the Watchtower Bible and tract Society of Pennsylvania, Inc.?
- Second, can we sue in New York the Governing Body and the corporate entities headquartered in New York for cases of child sexual abuse that occurred in other states under New York’s Child Victims Act?
These will be heavily contested issues that the New York courts will have to decide.
In California, the Zalkin Law Firm has filed numerous JW cases that are still moving through the state’s court system and anticipates filing several more under California’s new three-year lookback window provided by AB 218, new legislation that went into effect on January 1, 2020. AB 218 revives older child sexual abuse cases for a period of three years. As in New York, we have named the Governing Body and its members as defendants in some of these cases.
We are also still fighting in court to obtain the JW child molestation database. Despite multiple court orders and repeated failures at appeal, even to the US Supreme Court, the Watchtower has not complied with a pending court order by the Superior Court in Santa Ana, California. There is an appeal filed by several so-called individuals (most likely organized by the Watchtower) who claim their privacy rights would be affected if Watchtower were forced to comply with the court order and produce the molestation files. We anticipate that appeal will be argued later this year.
School District, The Living Word Fellowship, Faith Baptist and Other institutions
We have several child sexual abuse cases against public school districts, The Living Word Fellowship, Faith Baptist Church, and other institutions in California. Because of the coronavirus and its impact on normal court proceedings, we anticipate that there will be some delays in litigating these cases. At the moment, we have had to postpone trials, cancel pending depositions, and other pretrial proceedings until we receive notice from the courts as to when normal operations will resume.
Thank You For Working With Us
If you are curious about our firm, I invite you to browse through our website – for an overview of who were are and our experience in sexual abuse cases. If you have other questions, please do not hesitate to contact us via email or phone call. We truly value the opportunity to work with all our clients and we look forward to getting to know each of you well as your case moves forward.