Lake Oswego – The men accuse a former teacher of sex abuse in ’73 or ’74

 
Friday, February 29, 2008

BILL GRAVES

The Oregonian Staff

Three men filed a lawsuit against Lake Oswego School District and a former teacher Thursday, seeking $6.3 million in damages on grounds the teacher sexually abused them more than 30 years ago.

One objective of the civil suit, filed in Clackamas County Circuit Court, is to challenge the constitutionality of the two-year statute of limitations on abuse charges against Oregon government employees, said Kelly Clark, the Portland attorney representing the three men.

Under Oregon law, victims of sexual abuse have only two years to file a suit against a government agency, though there is no statute of limitations for private organizations such as the Boy Scouts or churches.

"If we’re successful and the court strikes this statute down, it would open the door for other abuse survivors who were victimized by government employees to bring suit," said Clark, who has represented sexual-abuse victims in suits against the Archdiocese of Portland, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America, among others.

William Korach, superintendent of Lake Oswego schools, said he has notified his school board, district attorneys and the district’s insurance company about the "unusual" suit.

It was filed anonymously by three men, all in their 40s. They allege their Bryant Elementary fifth-grade teacher, Judd W. Johnson of Lake Oswego, now 66, fondled their genitals inside their clothing in class in 1973 or 1974.

Johnson was working at Lake Grove Elementary in Lake Oswego 10 years later when he was charged with sexually abusing a male student. He resigned on Feb. 1, 1984, after pleading guilty in Clackamas County Circuit Court to second-degree sexual abuse. He was sentenced to two years’ probation and counseling, and the state revoked his teaching license.

Johnson told The Oregonian he taught in Lake Oswego for 20 years and knew nothing about Thursday’s lawsuit. "I’d rather not say anything more to you now," he said.

The former students suing him are seeking $2 million each for emotional trauma and "permanent psychological damage." They also seek $100,000 each for future therapy.

Even though the alleged abuse occurred decades ago, Clark said the men recently recognized how profoundly they had been hurt by the abuse and approached him.

The suit argues the state’s two-year statute of limitations "is inherently unreasonable" by requiring the men and other victims of abuse by governmental employees "to bring suit before being able to consciously recognize that they have been injured."

Sexual abuse victims do not usually repress their memories of assault, said Clark. But most try to deny its importance, often for decades, until a family crisis, news story, counseling or some other event forces them to confront how their abuse has affected them emotionally and psychologically, he said.

Each man in the lawsuit says that moment of discovery came for him in 2006 or 2007.

Bill Graves: 503-221-8549; billgraves@news.oregonian.com