January of 2021 marks the one year anniversary of the enactment of what’s been called the “Child Victims Act.” The Child Victims Act, also known as AB 218, is what has given survivors back their rights to sue abusers and those who covered up the abuse. During that first year, a lot has happened under the Child Victims Act. One year ago, some survivors started filing their claims and shortly thereafter, COVID hit. It really shut the courts down for a couple of months. But the good news is that that delay in the courts hasn’t really affected the rights of survivors, and it gave us as advocates an opportunity to really do our homework and get these cases ready. During the last year we’ve been in contact with this called “the judicial council” and the judicial council is like the group of judges who oversees all the judges in the state of California.
When the situation of the Child Victims Act was presented to those judges, one of the major focuses are the cases involving the Catholic Church. There are approximately a dozen Catholic dioceses throughout the state of California. We know there are hundreds of cases against all of these dioceses throughout the state of California, and the concern there logistically is that that means lawyers are running around to every courthouse in every county, throughout the whole state. That puts at risk the effectiveness of the Child Victims Act because you have different courts and different judges giving different rulings and different timelines. That has the possibility of really bogging things down. So during the first year of the window of the child victims act, the judicial council recognized that and created three epicenters, if you will, for how these cases are going to be handled, at least involving the Catholic Church.
So in these three epicenters, all of the Catholic Dioceses in Northern California are going to be handled in Alameda County, in Oakland, California. Similarly, in Southern California, there are two epicenters, one in Los Angeles and one in San Diego County. This means that there’s a small group of judges who are handling the cases involving all of the various Catholic Diocese in California. These judges will know the cases, will be able to streamline the process and make sure that these cases don’t get bogged down and spread out across many different courthouses. Survivors now have the advantage of having a streamlined process, where there’s a small group of judges who see the lawyers, like us, on a routine basis and can move these cases forward. The reality is that these survivors have been waiting for justice for a really long time. To let it get bogged down would have been a travesty. It’s a very, very big victory for survivors to now have this infrastructure, where we as advocates know exactly which courthouse to go to, and in many cases which judge will actually be assigned to their case, so that we can work for survivors; and these cases are able to move forward effectively and efficiently.