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Child Victims Act plaintiffs who want anonymity win a victory in court

Individuals who want to remain anonymous as they pursue lawsuits under the Child Victims Act won a victory in a Buffalo courtroom on Monday.

A woman who has accused a former Amherst Central School administrator of repeated sexual assaults when she was a teenager may continue to litigate her lawsuit without having her name made public, State Supreme Court Justice Deborah A. Chimes ruled.

This is the first local case in which defendants in a Child Victims Act lawsuit tried to force an accuser to have his or her name made public.

Chimes' ruling was called an important victory by Paul K. Barr and Chris O’Brien, two local attorneys who have filed a number of lawsuits under the Child Victims Act.

“It’s a huge victory for victims of sexual abuse because it allows them the protection of their anonymity while still giving the defendant the full opportunity to present a defense,” O’Brien said.

Barr told The Buffalo News that several local men and women who were molested as children told them they will not file lawsuits if their names are exposed.

Child Victims Act (updated 2/13/20)

Barr represents a Buffalo-area woman in her 50s who has sued anonymously, claiming that a former Amherst school administrator named John “Jack” Koch repeatedly molested her during the 1980s, beginning when she was 14 years old. Attorneys for the Amherst school were given the plaintiff's name but are not allowed to publicize it.

But lawyers for the accused argue that, in cases where taxpayer money is at stake, the public has every right to know the names of the accusers.

When taxpayer money is involved, the public “has a strong interest in full and open disclosure of all matters related to this litigation, including the names of the litigants,” Julia M. Hilliker, an attorney for the Amherst and Kenmore-Tonawanda school districts, argued in court papers filed. Hilliker represents Amherst schools in the Koch case and also represents Kenmore-Tonawanda schools in more than 30 Child Victims Act cases alleging that young students were molested by retired teacher Arthur Werner.

In Monday’s decision, Chimes wrote that she is sympathetic to the school districts’ argument, but was persuaded by the argument that victims of childhood sexual abuse may be reluctant to come forward if their names are publicized. She said the Child Victims Act was enacted to open the doors of justice to victims.

Since September, more than 300 men and women have filed Child Victims Acts lawsuits in Western New York, alleging that they were molested as children by priests, teachers, school administrators or other adult authority figures. In about two-thirds of those cases, the plaintiffs want their names to be kept secret.

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