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Louisiana Supreme Court to take new look at decision that ended 'lookback window' for sex abuse cases

1 month 2 weeks 2 hours ago Friday, May 10 2024 May 10, 2024 May 10, 2024 3:31 PM May 10, 2024 in News
Source: WBRZ

NEW ORLEANS — The Louisiana Supreme Court said Friday it would reconsider its March decision that eliminated a "lookback window" that allowed child sex abuse victims to file lawsuits regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred. 

Lawmakers unanimously created a three-year window in which abuse victims could come forward. Justices on March 22 rejected it, saying it disturbed the potential defendants' "vested rights."

In their request for a rehearing, lawyers for those seeking to sue for past abuse said that only the Legislature could set legal time limits for filing lawsuits, and that the court couldn't overturn the lawmakers' decision. A previous state constitution set limits, but the current one does not.

The lawyers said having a strict time limit would harm children with repressed memories, and accused the court of putting a potential defendant's rights ahead of a victim's.

The court voted 5-2 to grant the rehearing. When overturning the lookback window in March, the vote was 4-3, meaning two justices who voted against the window consented to the new hearing.

Attorney General Liz Murrill called the decision to take up the case again a victory for child victims of sexual abuse.

"This was the right decision, as the bill passed unanimously through the State Legislature and should be the law here in Louisiana," she said.

But Justice Jefferson Hughes said that, out of fairness, the justices system had to draw a line on what claims were limitless.

"Adult rape victims? Holocaust survivors? Descendants of the enslaved? Which of these shall we favor?" He asked. "As far back as the Code of Hammurabi (1750 BC), civilizations have provided time limits on legal claims as an essential element of fairness. ...

"Some victims of crimes have teams of lawyers that proclaim, `The sky's the limit.' Some die in the dark. Pray for them all," he wrote.

Parties in the case must file additional court papers by May 20.

Doug Bienvenu says he and several other boys were abused by the Rev. Kenneth Morvant, who was stationed at St. Martin de Tours Church in St. Martinville. He said in 2018 that he had blocked the abuse out of his memory for decades — until discovering that Morvant was buried in a place of honor on church grounds. 

After he filed suit, defendants said the statute of limitations for Morvant's actions had passed and that the lawsuit was time-barred. Lawmakers in 2021 and 2022 passed bills to give past abuse victims a window in which they could file claims.

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