Clackamas County Circuit Court dismissed a lawsuit against Lake Oswego School District that claimed that former teacher Judd Johnson sexually abused seven men – then elementary school students – between the late 60s and early 80s. Judge James Tait left the claims against Johnson pending.
In order for the men to win the case, they will have to convince the courts or possibly even the Legislature to change the statute of limitations on crimes involving public entities. The men appealed the ruling to the Oregon Court of Appeals on Jan. 7.
Originally three men filed suit in February, seeking $2 million each for emotional trauma and “permanent psychological damage” and $100,000 each for future therapy. Four more added their names to the list in April, bringing the total suit to $14.7 million.
Some of the men, who are now in their 40s and 50s, have remained friends over the years, and some of them have never met. All seven –anonymous in the lawsuit – allege abuse by Johnson over the course of his career that includes Bryant Elementary School, Forest Hills Elementary School and Lake Grove Elementary School. Typically, Johnson allegedly used the grooming process to fondle the boys’ genitals and buttocks.
The complaint alleges that an LOSD administrator knew about the abuse but had a practice of transferring Johnson around the district to cover it up.
The school district, represented by attorney David Ernst, disputes that the suit is valid because the Oregon Tort Claims Act establishes a 180-day notice period, subject to a 90-day extension. It contains a two-year statute of limitations.
According to the seven plaintiffs’ attorney Kelly Clark, “It is unreasonable up to the point of unconstitutional to expect a child abuse survivor to file suit before he consciously understands he has been injured.”
Clark, who has represented about 150 sexual abuse victims in suits against the Boy Scouts, Catholic Church, other churches and schools, said that there has been no challenge of the constitutionality of the two-year statute of limitations. Clark has concluded from his experience with child abuse cases that the law is unreasonable. Under Oregon law, private organizations such as churches are under different statutes of limitations than government bodies.
The original three victims were prompted to come forward when a series of articles on sexual abuse in schools ran in The Oregonian last February. They claim that realizing the importance of the abuse came to them in 2006 or 2007. The four others joined the suit after it was made public, also in February.
The youngest man in the suit said he told his mother in the early 1980s what had happened while he was a student at Lake Grove Elementary School. She supposedly contacted an administrator who told her that if she kept quiet about the abuse Johnson would be transferred. She refused and went to law enforcement with her complaint.
According to the lawsuit, one year prior to her son’s alleged abuse, Johnson had been discovered abusing a different young boy in a boat on Oswego Lake. The district allegedly knew about the incident but took no action. At that time, Johnson was not prosecuted because the boy did not want to testify.
In a separate incident, Johnson pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual abuse in Clackamas County and was sentenced to two years of probation and counseling. He resigned from the school district on Feb. 1, 1984 and the state revoked his teaching license.
Ernst argued that the youngest plaintiff did have constructive knowledge of his abuse in the 80s, so therefore the statute of limitations already started and expired. However, the complaint claims that the plaintiff had no knowledge of the alleged misconduct of the district until after last year.
According to court documents, Johnson denies every allegation since he does not know the identity of the plaintiffs.
Attorney Kelly Clark says the plaintiffs will continue to fight until they achieve justice.