Edelson to Senate: To stop sexual assault, fix defamation law

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The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin published this piece in print on Wednesday, May 16, 2018. The jump is below.

Published by the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin on May 16, 2018

By Rebecca Anzel
Law Bulletin correspondent


SPRINGFIELD — An attorney involved in a federal class-action lawsuit against Aurora volleyball coach Rick Butler outlined new rules he said will stymie the “epidemic” of sexual assault instances in youth sports.

At a state Senate hearing Tuesday aimed at addressing sexual harassment and discrimination, lawyer Jay Edelson pushed for legal changes to prevent slander suits against victims and penalty changes for those who lie about instances of sexual abuse against children.

The managing partner at Edelson P.C. is representing Lauren Mullen, a parent who alleges she would not have paid fees for her children to train under Butler’s direction had she known about several sexual abuse allegations against him.

Mullen, who filed the case in February, is seeking compensation for payments she made to the sports club and a court order requiring Butler and his wife, Cheryl, to disclose “the true nature of Butler’s sexual abuse of underage girls” to current and prospective players and their parents.

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Danielle D’Ambrose, an associate at Angelini, Mills, Woods & Ori, is one of the attorneys representing Butler and his wife. She declined to comment on Edelson’s proposals or testimony, saying she and her colleagues had not read a transcript of the hearing.

“We will not fight this in the court of public opinion,” D’Ambrose said. “We will continue to vigorously defend against any allegations which have been stated against Rick Butler, both now and in the past, in the context of the lawsuit that was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.”

The legal team filed a motion to dismiss the case against Butler Monday.

Edelson outlined five proposals Tuesday before the Senate Sexual Discrimination and Harassment Awareness and Prevention Task Force that he said would “protect the most vulnerable in society.”

First, Edelson and his associates recommended employees of youth athletic organizations be mandated to report known instances of past or current sexual abuse allegations to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and relevant sport-club governing organizations. The effort would alleviate the hesitation minors feel about bringing abuse accusations against their coaches and also alert authorities, he said.

“It is crazy that we’ve heard from clubs that coaches have been fired for sexually inappropriate behavior with minors, and then those same coaches coach players in another club,” he said.

Because young sexual abuse victims often do not come forward until after the statute of limitations expires, the accused can bring defamation suits against them. In those instances, Edelson said the statute of limitations should be waived so the victim can bring a countersuit and prove the underlying allegations truthful.

He testified the slander and libel laws in Illinois should be amended to make it slander per se for the accused to have lied about the crime. Additionally, Edelson said lying about child sex abuse should have an increased perjury penalty. These two punishment changes would “provide a huge deterrent to abusers attacking the character of their victims.”

Finally, he said Illinois should institute a $150,000 presumption of damages for cases of child sex abuse. This could result in quicker trials.

“These legislative solutions are not targeted in order to impact this specific lawsuit,” Edelson said, referring to the case against Butler. “We realized through the lawsuit that there is an incredible imbalance in the legal system where the victims of these horrendous crimes end up having no rights at all and then get revictimized by their abusers, who lie about them, threaten them and then bring defamation suits.”

Also testifying at the hearing were two women who accused Butler of raping them in the 1980s when they were teenagers as well as a former business associate of his who said her daughter leveled the same accusations against the volleyball coach.

All three reinforced Edelson’s testimony.

“I’m not here today because I want to relive all of the horrible things that Rick Butler did to me when I was a child entrusted to his care,” Julie Bremner Romias said. “I’m here because I feel that I have to be because change needs to happen.”

Romias accused Butler of sexually assaulting her “countless times and in countless places” when she was 17.

Butler has never been criminally charged for the allegation or any others. He was banned for life from USA Volleyball events in January and from Amateur Athletic Union events in February.

The legislative task force was formed in November after more than 200 people signed a public letter attesting they have either experienced or witnessed sexual harassment within state government. Its members have indicated they will not make any recommendations until fully investigating all related issues.


The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin originally published this piece online here.