“It’s a ‘Follow the Money’ Story”
Opposition to attorney Marci Hamilton and her Child USA grows with the mounting evidence her campaign is a travesty, out to profit lawyers—while the vast majority of victims of child sex abuse are shut out from justice.
Lawyer Marci Hamilton paints herself as the caped crusader of child sex abuse lawsuits, a dedicated champion of the rights of the abused.
But that carefully applied paint continues to chip and fade.
Hamilton, 65, an academic at the University of Pennsylvania, is the founder and CEO of Child USA, an organization that lobbies for reform of statutes of limitations (SOL) in child sexual abuse claims.
They claim the reform is for the purpose of protecting and compensating victims of child sexual abuse, including in cases which happened years, even decades, ago and, therefore, provide victims with an avenue of long overdue justice previously denied them by the statutes.
But a groundswell of opposition is growing, as legislators, officials and child victims’ advocates who once supported Hamilton and her Child USA are turning away and rethinking exactly what really motivates Hamilton and her crew.
Mounting evidence reveals that Child USA is not really about children, or some moral or noble desire to support victims who need help. Instead, Child USA’s emphasis on SOL reform is a well-orchestrated effort to open the floodgates to suits against “deep-pocket” institutions—and resultant massive proceeds to attorney firms, who are Child USA’s major financial supporters—while forsaking the vast majority of victims. And Hamilton, who has close ties to atheistic and antireligious organizations, appears to be waging her own private war against organized religion.
“This whole thing is a ‘follow the money’ story. It seems to have nothing to do with the welfare of children, or even the compensation to those harmed 30 or 40 or more years ago. It is about power, and money—for law firms, for Marci Hamilton and for other politicians.”
In cases of child abuse that are many years old, it is extremely difficult to defend effectively against lawsuits. Memories weaken, witnesses die, evidence is lost and institutional structures change. Therefore, wealthy institutions like the Catholic Church find it necessary to avoid trials and so agree to settlements for big money, an average of 30 to 40 percent of which goes to attorneys on contingency.
The evidence shows that Hamilton’s support group of attorney firms predominantly take on victims whose cases involve institutions that can be sued for millions. Experts estimate that such victims connected to moneyed institutions represent as few as 10 percent of those abused as children. The majority, whose abusers have no significant assets, often can’t find attorneys to represent them and are shut out from justice.
“This whole thing is a ‘follow the money’ story,” a highly placed communications director for a Pennsylvania state legislator told Freedom. “It seems to have nothing to do with the welfare of children, or even the compensation to those harmed 30 or 40 or more years ago. It is about power, and money—for law firms, for Marci Hamilton and for other politicians.”
Hamilton, with her doctorate and university position, provides the academic façade of respect for what many characterize as a blatant money grab on the part of members of the legal profession.
Hamilton’s academic standing is what originally made her attractive to St. Paul, Minnesota, trial attorney Jeffrey Anderson circa 2002. Anderson had already profited handsomely from child sex abuse lawsuits and gained notoriety as an ambulance chaser, especially against the Catholic Church. In 1989, he convinced Minnesota to suspend the SOL, and by 2002, he had reportedly harvested $60 million in child sex abuse cases.
Anderson showed Hamilton the pathway to her own yellow brick road when he asked her to join his efforts. She provided a guise of academic class and respectability to his operation and she became a face of SOL reform.
“She [Hamilton] is trying to tear down these religious institutions. That is ultimately what she is trying to do.”
How does it work? Hamilton and supporting law firms that feed on her legislative efforts lobby state legislatures to suspend state statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse claims for a period of time, normally one or two years, thus opening a “lookback” or “revival” window to bring lawsuits that are beyond the SOL. They also lobby to extend or eliminate SOLs altogether.
If successful, the changes give victims for whom the time limit on their claims has expired a new opportunity to sue their perpetrators, including any institutions, for redress. Such suits, especially those with older claims, can be virtually bulletproof, given that memories, evidence and witnesses die off. So institutions frequently opt to settle, often for large amounts of cash, rather than go down the path of trial.
In 2002, Anderson and Hamilton, along with other attorneys, convinced California to suspend the SOL for one year. As Hamilton later told USA Today in 2019, it wasn’t victims who sought the reform. “Lawyers, not survivors, pushed for California to pass legislation in 2002.”
During the ensuing one-year revival window, lawyers filed more than 1,100 cases, the majority against the Catholic Church. One author noted that a “significant percentage” of the claims alleged abuse by over 100 dead priests, some going back to the 1930s.
Effective defense was highly unlikely after such a long time, and the church settled for $1.2 billion. The Catholic Diocese of San Diego filed for bankruptcy. Lawyers who filed the cases are reported to have received as much as 55 percent of the settlement, or $660 million.
There was, it seemed, a motherlode to be tapped nationwide. Hamilton and other attorneys began focusing on lobbying more states, mobilizing to file lawsuits as soon as the strictures of SOLs were lifted.
That religious institutions have been a primary focus is no surprise to those familiar with Hamilton, given her long affiliation with atheist and antireligious groups.
One legislative staff executive termed her “anti-religion” and said, “She [Hamilton] is trying to tear down these religious institutions. That is ultimately what she is trying to do.”
Child USA board members Brian Kent and Jeffrey Fritz, both Philadelphia-based child sex abuse litigators, stressed the importance of identifying “viable third party institutional defendants”—i.e., deep pockets—when assessing cases.
In 2016, Hamilton started her Child USA, followed by its lobbying arm, Child USAdvocacy. They have taken the lead in campaigning and lobbying for state legislatures to suspend, extend, or eliminate SOLs to enable victims whose cases fall outside the statute time limits to file lawsuits. To date, more than two dozen states have opened revival windows for a period of time.
For every attorney and victim who says that these reforms have helped serve justice in decades-old abuse cases, there is the growing number who say the campaign pushed by Marci Hamilton and Child USA has chiefly enriched lawyers, attacked churches and abandoned the majority of victims.
Lawyers affiliated with Child USA are well aware of where their money comes from, and they pay back. Personal injury law firms, more than 40, have supported Child USA in recent years; a dozen firms have cumulatively donated over a million dollars since 2019. In turn, top donors are awarded with positions on Child USA’s board of directors, enabling these lawyers to guide the organization’s policies, finances and activities to maximize their law firms’ returns on their contributions to the nonprofit. Notably, James Marsh, the founding partner of Child USA’s top donating firm, Marsh Law Firm, earned the position of board chair. Child USA’s website also helpfully lists the names of contributing firms for victims to find and hire.
Among the law firms who have supported Child USA are beneficiaries of New York’s Child Victims Act (NY CVA), for which Hamilton and her Child USA pushed heavily for several years. Passed in 2019, and extended during the pandemic, the NY CVA suspended SOL for two years during which victims of any age could file lawsuits. A whopping 10,925 cases were filed, requiring 45 judges specifically designated to deal with the onslaught of litigation.
Of the nearly 11,000 cases filed under NY CVA, more than 90 percent name an institutional defendant….favor[ing] profit-driven law firms that target deep-pocket institutions, to the detriment of the vast majority of the victims. And not just any law firms—those that fund Child USA, and Hamilton’s six-digit annual paycheck.
Prior to the NY CVA being pushed through, New York lawmakers designed a bill that would have created a $300-million fund, collected through forfeiture proceedings, to help all victims—including those whose claims don’t involve an institution—to be compensated. When the bill was introduced, it was hailed as “a huge victory for all victims.” Marci Hamilton, however, denounced it as “a mockery of real justice for victims.” The bill, which would have curtailed financial gains for lawyers, died.
It is no coincidence that of the nearly 11,000 cases filed under NY CVA, more than 90 percent name an institutional defendant. Even though Hamilton knew a small percent of instances of child sexual abuse have an institutional component, the law she lobbied for overwhelmingly favored profit-driven law firms that target deep-pocket institutions, to the detriment of the vast majority of the victims. And not just any law firms—those that fund Child USA, and Hamilton’s six-digit annual paycheck from the organization.
According to New York court records, media reports and publicly available financial information from Child USA, attorneys at four law firms that have financially supported Child USA filed at least 5,349 cases—essentially half the total number of cases brought in the two-year window opened by the NY CVA. Marsh Law Firm, which has donated a minimum of $200,000, filed at least 500 cases; Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala has donated minimum $160,000 and filed 479 cases; Herman Law has donated minimum $50,000 and filed at least 2,500 cases; Jeff Anderson & Associates has donated an unspecified amount and filed at least 1,870 cases.
Between them, based on the math of average compensation to plaintiffs and lawyer contingency fees, these four law firms could stand to collect up to as much as half a billion dollars as a windfall from passage of the NY CVA.
Those are the numbers that count for Child USA. The group’s website has boasted not the number of childhood victims helped but that they have facilitated “over $1 billion in settlements for survivors across the United States.”
The evidence only continues to grow that the vast majority of victims whose claims involve no wealthy “institutional defendant” can scarcely find lawyers willing to take their cases.
In 2020, Hamilton created a continuing legal education program (CLE) under Child USA auspices to teach lawyers how to file lawsuits and win settlements in child sexual abuse cases. In the first CLE lecture, introduced by Hamilton, Child USA board members Brian Kent and Jeffrey Fritz, both Philadelphia-based child sex abuse litigators, stressed the importance of identifying “viable third party institutional defendants”—i.e., deep pockets—when assessing cases.
“A lot of times somebody will come into my office and not even realize or understand that there might be some viable third party defendant, institutional defendant, that we can go after,” Fritz, of Soloff & Zervanos, P.C., told the attending lawyers.
“In a civil case, it’s so important in that regard for the healing process if there’s an institutional defendant or corporate defendant,” emphasized Kent, a partner at Laffey Bucci Kent.
Meanwhile, the evidence only continues to grow that the vast majority of victims whose claims involve no wealthy “institutional defendant” can scarcely find lawyers willing to take their cases.
So, question many, where is Marci Hamilton’s and Child USA’s moral high ground? Where is the real concern for the plight of victims who are shut out from justice and reparations for their abuse?
Nowhere to be found.
Watch for Part V of this Investigative Series: FALSE SCIENCE: PICK A NUMBER