Sean Stokes, RisCassi & Davis in Hartford, Connecticut. ()
Counsel working pro bono for a 16-year-old girl sexually assaulted at a local public library when she was 7 have secured a $750,000 verdict against her attacker, who is serving a 17-year prison sentence.
Sean Stokes of Hartford’s RisCassi & Davis, lead counsel on the case, said representing the victim pro bono was “a no-brainer” that his colleagues fully supported. “This was an opportunity to do what I chose to go to law school for,” Stokes said. “I’m lucky to be at RisCassi & Davis, which recognizes the good that we do and the importance of making sure people are compensated, even when there’s little to go after.”
The plaintiff, identified as Jane Doe in court documents, was visiting the Licia and Mason Beekley Library in New Hartford with her mother during the summer of 2008 when Christopher Darazs, then 29, of New Hartford, entered the library with his own young child. According to court records, Darazs approached the victim and brought her to a secluded area of the library, where he asked the victim to lift her dress and orally assaulted her. The victim immediately reported the incident to her mother, but the perpetrator could not be located. Darazs was arrested days later, court documents note, after a police sketch developed with the victim’s assistance was circulated.
Court documents identify at least one other instance in which Darazs had previously sexually assaulted a minor, including an 11-year-old girl while she was swimming at Highland Lake in Winsted. He is serving concurrent sentences for assault convictions, including first-degree sexual assault, at Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers.
While imprisoned, Darazs has initiated at least three civil actions against the state Department of Corrections, winning a $15,000 judgment in one case. “Some time last June the clients came to us and had heard the perpetrator had some assets,” Stokes said. “We met with them and it became pretty clear that the amount wasn’t going to be adequate to compensate her. We wanted to make sure she got every penny that was available to her.”
Court records indicate the plaintiff experienced recurring post-traumatic stress disorder, public shame and bullying following the assault. Stokes said these reasons contributed to a request for nonspecific noneconomic damages.
In representing himself, Darazs submitted several handwritten motions to the court, including an offer to settle the case for $14,000 and a “motion to strike” on July 17 of this year, in which he claims the plaintiff’s complaints are “frivolous,” and that he “discovered evidence at a later date” regarding the plaintiff’s testimony about economic loss.
“I’m not an attorney, nor have I access to legal materials and I’m respectfully requesting that the Court take action as the plaintiff is abusing the process,” Darazs wrote.
In his memorandum of decision, Superior Court Judge Carl J. Schuman found in the plaintiff’s favor. He wrote that “non-economic damages are necessarily intangible and approximate, so the best one can do is make a fair estimate, taking into account all material factors as well as common observation and experience. The plaintiff has experienced tremendous emotional distress and suffering as a result of the defendant’s actions. The defendant has robbed the plaintiff of a normal childhood. His indecency will adversely affect the plaintiff for life.”
While Schuman awarded a judgment of $750,000, Stokes noted that the full amount is unlikely to be collected, but the award does attach to Darazs’ $15,000 settlement, along with any other future financial gain, up to the total award.
“One of the things we sensed about this guy—he’s in jail but he’s the kind of guy who might bring claims in the future, so we wanted a judgment that would be enough that if he slips and falls in prison, we made sure she gets that,” Stokes said. “Her injuries far exceed what his assets are, so anything he recovers she’ll be entitled to.”
Stokes added that he felt the hours spent on this case “were all very much well worth it,” and that he did not set out to “do the bare minimum. We treated this case just like we treat all of our cases.” Stokes also said it was an opportunity to get justice for someone who normally doesn’t get it.
“It’s a standard type of case, but I think what it does is reinforce the message that if you’re going to harm somebody, whether intentionally or negligently, you can be held responsible criminally and civilly—and people need to be compensated for the harms caused by the faults of others.”