The Utah Supreme Court recently struck down a 2016 state law that granted sexual abuse victims the right to sue decades later. The court ruled the law unconstitutional, citing that it erases the statutes of limitation.
The Supreme Court sided against Terry Mitchell, who alleged that Judge Richard Roberts sexually abused her in 1981 shortly after the state law was passed. Roberts promptly announced his retirement as chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Robert's attorney argued for the case to be dismissed and said that the 2016 state law could invite old sexual assault claims.
Details surrounding the allegations against Roberts
The abuse allegedly occurred when Mitchell was a teenager who witnessed two of her friends get shot by a white supremacist. Roberts was involved in the prosecution of white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin at the time. Roberts allegedly got Mitchell alone and abused her under the guise of preparing her testimony.
Mitchell said that she suppressed the memory of the abuse for decades. It was suppressed until Roberts emailed her in 2013 regarding the execution of Franklin. After an investigation by the Utah Attorney General's Office, criminal charges were not filed since the age of the consent at the time of the abuse was 16.
The state not only failed Mitchell, but also failed several other survivors of sexual abuse. She personally was denied assistance of several state agencies and endured years of physical trauma symptoms.
After the Supreme Court struck down the state law, Mitchell vowed to continue the pursuit of justice for others who have been victimized by sexual abuse.
“I feel like they just put a welcome mat out to Utah for any predator that wants to abuse children,” said Mitchell. “It’s a predator-friendly state as long as this is the way we handle things, and it’s not right.
In a 22-page opinion, Justice Thomas Lee wrote that the right to a statute of limitation defense is unconditional. Lee write it is "beyond the reach of lawmakers to change."
Can the law be reinstated?
Several sexual abuse victims gathered at the Utah State Capitol to protest the Supreme Court's decision, including Syracuse Mayor Jamie Nagle.
Nagle and her colleagues will continue to support a ballot initiative. The initiative would reinstate the change to the constitutional amendment. It would allow victims to take legal action decades after their abuse. That's because it's often difficult for victims of sexual abuse to process what happened and come to terms with it. Many of them battle decades of emotional and physical trauma.
One Utah lawmaker wants to help reinstate the law that brings justice to sexual abuse victims. Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City will be exploring other legislative options that could draw a wide range of support.
“This bill was a way of saying ‘We believe you, we support you.’ So we’ll continue to work on making sure that we get there as a state,” said Romero.
Mitchell's attorney argued against Lee's opinion. The attorney claimed such constitutional amendments can be changed with good reason through a referendum, which was brought by Rep. Ken Ivory in 2016 with little opposition.
How can I take legal action if I'm a victim of sexual abuse?
If you're a victim of sexual abuse in the workplace or elsewhere, it's important that you take action. To learn about the legal options available, contact an experienced sexual abuse attorney at Andrus Law Firm, LLC.
We serve clients in Salt Lake City and throughout Utah. Our legal consultations are confidential and free of charge.