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ALBANY � Taking a cue from the Court of Appeals, a Manhattan state senator is aggressively pushing legislation that would open a window of opportunity to survivors of sexual abuse incidents decades in the past. Senator Thomas K. Duane, a Democrat from Greenwich Village, said that the Court invited legislative action Feb. 21 when, in Zumpano v. Quinn , 1, and Boyle v. Smith , 2, (NYLJ, Feb. 22, 2006), it held that equitable estoppel did not toll the statute of limitations for victims of sexually exploitive clergy. The Court made clear, however, that while current law provides no relief for the victims, the Legislature could offer a remedy. At a forum yesterday in the capital, victims and advocates came forward in support of a package of bills promoted by Mr. Duane. He said that revelations of the clergy abuse scandal “really crystalized for me the insidious power that sex abuse has had on our culture and our society. It is especially horrible when it comes from a person in a position of trust.” The senator said the Zumpanodecision is a clear signal that the Legislature must take action. John Zumpano, the plaintiff in the case, strongly agreed. Shaking from medication he takes to address lingering effects of abuses he said occurred between 1963 and 1970, Mr. Zumpano yesterday testified that the Court’s decision robbed him of what he most needs � a chance to confront his alleged assailant. Mr. Zumpano did not sue until 2003, but the statute of limitations had expired in 1976. “I haven’t been allowed to ask this individual ‘why,’ to look him in the face,” Mr. Zumpano said in slow, halting testimony. “I need that opportunity from you, senator. When you harm a child, you give that child a life sentence. And it is that life sentence you see before you today.” Mr. Zumpano, 57, said he frequently considers suicide and has injured himself on many occasions. Mr. Duane asked Mr. Zumpano if he might have mental health issues unrelated to the alleged abuse. Both Mr. Zumpano and his attorney, Frank Policello of Utica, said medical records show the mental illness surfaced after the abuse. “What resolution would be most helpful to you?” Mr. Duane asked. “Just to get him to tell me why. Why me? Why am I irrelevant? Why am I like this? Just to see him, one on one,” Mr. Zumpano responded. Mr. Duane has four pending bills that would, among other things, toll the statute of limitations in sexual abuse matters involving children. Although none of the bills are likely to pass this session, there is growing pressure on the Legislature to do something in response to the Court of Appeals ruling. At yesterday’s forum, Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and author of “God vs. The Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law,” stressed that there is no New York constitutional impediment to opening a window of opportunity for victims of childhood sexual abuse. “The most valuable lesson for New York coming out of the Catholic Church’s clergy abuse crisis is that the short statutes of limitations for childhood sexual abuse have and continue to actively harm children by serving the interests of sexual predators and those who shelter them,” she said. “The primary obstacle to justice is a very simple procedural rule, and that’s the statute of limitations. Victims demand justice and deserve justice, but it is the statute of limitations that has stopped them both criminally and civilly in every state except California, which pioneered this ‘window’ legislation.” Opponents of Mr. Duane’s bills and similar proposals fear opening a floodgate of litigation. They also suggest it would be unfair to subject alleged perpetrators to scandalous allegations when, because of the passage of time, their ability to defend themselves has diminished. � John Caher can be reached at [email protected] .

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