Sexual abuse attorney, Jeff Anderson, pioneers new field of law

February 12, 2020


Photo courtesy of Jeff Anderson and Associates

On Dec. 30, 2019, Jeff Anderson, a Stillwater attorney, announced a lawsuit against the St. Michael diocese in California. Anderson and his team were able to file the lawsuit after they helped pass the California Child Victims Act, which removed the statute of limitations for childhood sexual assault or abuse.

In 1982, Tom Krauel, a by-the-book lawyer, was faced with an insurmountable task by perspective clients, the Lymans: prosecute Thomas Anderson, the priest who molested their son, Greg.

Krauel’s self-doubt of how to handle the case led to the transfer of the case to the one lawyer he thought could do justice, both literally and figuratively: Jeffrey Anderson.

That case changed not only Anderson’s life, but also the thousands of clients that either are, or have been with Jeff Anderson and Associates, a law advocacy group that represents those sexually abused as children.

Anderson, throughout the course of this career, has sued the higher up officials at Vatican, the Boy Scouts of America and plenty of Catholic diocese throughout the United States.

Anderson, a former alcoholic who was a “young, gutsy” lawyer who seemed lost, now can argue for clients in seven states, four of the thirteen Federal Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court.

Anderson, beginning the start of a new field of law, went straight to the church in the Lyman case to work out the issue on a contractual basis, rather than bringing it to the courts. Anderson went to the church and was about to sign the confidentiality agreement the church put forth, but stopped and realized this was “the usual agreement,” according Julie Anderson, Jeff Anderson’s wife.

[Jeff] is not a Catholic basher, at all. His best friends are Catholic, Jeff has been married once before and his wife was Catholic, this is nothing about being Catholic.”

— Julie Anderson

The realization he was signing the usual agreement is what led to Anderson’s recognition “as a pioneer in sexual abuse litigation” and the one of two lawsuits in America to sue a Catholic bishop during this time.

Sexual abuse nationally and locally

National organizations, such as the Roman Catholic Church or the Boy Scouts of America, have long been targets of wrongdoing by Anderson and other sexual assault attorneys.

The now infamous John Jay Report was the first large scale investigation by the Catholic Church into matters of sexual assault by priests.

The study found at its peak, 10,667 individual cases of sexual assault from 1950 to 2002, with the numbers of cases peaking in 1980, 12 years before the rest of the country’s sexual assault rate peaked.

The study also found 42 percent of males never reported sexual abuse by priests, versus the 33 percent of females who never reported.

With the reckoning of the #MeToo movement, teachers are adapting to what, and how, they teach consent and how to deal with sexual assault.

Health teacher Darrell Salmi said in all health classes, he “make[s] sure that [the students] know that there are resources available to them both in and out of school. Within school, they have, of course, teachers, counselors, principals. We have our resource center and our resource officers.”

The Minnesota Student Survey for 2019 reports for Stillwater Area High School that juniors and freshman were “forced to do something sexual or done something sexual to you against [their] wishes” from a non family member was 6.8 percent for juniors compared to 3 percent of freshman. The same question was asked, but for family members instead; the response was 2.8 percent for juniors and 1.2 percent for freshman. 3.2 percent of juniors and .9 percent of freshman said they “traded sex or sexual activity to receive money, food, drugs, alcohol, place to stay.”

Washington County analyzed the data from the Student Surveys from 2001 to 2016. The county found rates of sexual violence dropped in grades eight and nine, but rose in eleven throughout the timeframe.

Anderson’s striving for righting the ship

Throughout Anderson’s career, he has fought for, and won, many cases against large organizations accused of wide scale sexual abuse in their ranks.

Although Anderson has won many cases for survivors, he does not think of it as “winning.”

The statute of limitations is a technical art. You know, it’s technical. It’s procedural. It’s artificial. And it’s wrong.”

— Jeff Anderson

“I don’t think of it in terms of winning and losing. And I don’t think of it in terms of one client, one case, one moment in time,” said Anderson.

Anderson, although feeling great injustices for the survivors he represents, often fields upwards of ten calls a day with “a survivor sharing the secret with me, and with us.”

Even though he is fielded with these calls, pleas for help, the anger sometimes felt by survivors rarely pours into the courtroom. Rather, the sadness, the tension, the rawness seeps into the courtroom.

“I don’t ever yell. I am intense and I will have a tendency to modulate my voice and my emotions. But my particular personality is emotional, and so I will tell a jury at the start that I oftentimes have difficulty controlling my emotions. Especially, such as tears or said expression of sorrow and certainly don’t hold that against a client,” Anderson said. “I can also slow down and pause and be thoughtful. And then, when necessary, aggressive, if I feel it is absolutely appropriate, but only in the rare circumstances where it’s appropriate. And I’m never rude and never discourteous.”

Anderson’s passion for seeking justice, is littered through his speech. Anderson said, “I would say my greatest achievement is learning to live a life of love in law and working to protect the most vulnerable.” This achievement, he later made clear, was not strictly professional.

His wife, however, said if there is anything people need to know, it is said he “is not a Catholic basher, at all. His best friends are Catholic, Jeff has been married once before and his wife was Catholic, this is nothing about being Catholic.”

Righteous reform

“For 25 years I sued all the Catholic Bishops in America, and then came to realize over time very clearly they’re all answering under orders made by the Vatican. So, the Vatican ultimately has to be a focus. So, we choose to sue all the top officials that make the decisions to protect their reputation and not the kids,” said Anderson.

Anderson’s role in suing those in the Boy Scouts of America, Bishops, Archbishops, officials at the Vatican, along with others have essentially pioneered a completely new type of law. Anderson has long had roles in shaping statute of limitations in states such as California and New York.

[We] make sure that [the students] know that there are resources available to them both in and out of school.”

— Darrell Salmi

In California, he and a group of lobbyists helped push a bill through the legislature which repealed the statute of limitations for sex crimes against minors. In New York, he did the same thing, but was only able to open up the statute for a year, rather than completely disband the archaic, “common law,” practice.

Anderson, however, if given the ultimate say in how to lawfully help survivors, he “would remove the statue of limitations, on all sex crimes against children.”

“Most of the laws are skewed in favor of those that have power, influence, money, industry, commerce. And as a result, statute of limitations were designed to protect the big corporations against losses by the little guys they hurt,” Anderson said. “The statute of limitations is a technical art. You know, it’s technical. It’s procedural. It’s artificial. And it’s wrong.”

The Roman Catholic Church hierarchy

Some of Anderson’s most famous and noteworthy trials have been against those in the Roman Catholic Church. Anderson’s first case dealing with sexual abuse was filed against a priest, and the first against a Roman Catholic Bishop in the United States.

Before Anderson’s case even started in the courts, the case’s phase of discovery is what led to Anderson’s revelation that “what was revealed [here], is the same in every single diocese across the country. It just hadn’t been revealed by them.”

Once the Bishops and Archbishops realized, after all of their lying to Anderson, they needed to start to right the ship to not further expose predatory priests. 

“[The diocese] called me,” Anderson said, “knowing that I had this, it was like a Watergate cover up.”

Their attempt to cover up the situation is what led to the church bringing forth a confidentiality agreement to Anderson and his client, Greg Lyman. In exchange for signing the agreement, Lyman would receive $1 million from the church. 

Lyman turned the money down, even with Anderson’s warning: “[Because of] the statute of limitations I can’t tell you what the outcome is. But I can tell you what the right thing is. So [Lyman] said ‘Ok, turn it down, but do it quick. That’s a lot of f-ing money.’”

The trial took eight years, but Anderson not only sued the first Bishop in the United States, but was also the first one to win a in court of law against a Bishop.

Anderson’s morality

Although Anderson himself does not do too much gloating, others are aware of the good he spreads through the world and what he tries to do.

When I sent out interview requests, responses I often received were along the lines of: “I am not qualified enough to speak on the topic, but I do know that Jeff does incredible work.”

Anderson strives daily to make the world better, a day that remarkably starts at 4:00 in the morning, to try and make the world a better place, although will not admit he is the one to point a finger at. “When I, and it is always a we, not an I,” Anderson explained.

Anderson finished the interview with a profound, yet simple proclamation: “We all have the ability, the same options: to choose love or fear. To choose kindness over unkindness; we all have that ability.”

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