Torpy at Large: If lobbyists win, Hidden Predator Act will stay hidden

It’s hard to come out — at least publicly — against measures meant to clamp down on child molesters.

A bill in the state House called the Hidden Predator Act would expand the age (to 38) that past victims of child sexual assault could sue for damages. Moreso, it would hold accountable organizations, businesses and even churches that were derelict in their duties and allowed kids to be abused.

For decades, organizations and institutions would quietly usher away the abuser so the sordid activity would not tarnish and shame those institutions’ honorable names.

“It’s a crime of secrecy,” Rep. Jason Spencer, the bill’s author, told me.

Spencer’s legislation would expand the ability of victims to face down their abusers years later. It would, in cases where the entities failed to act on reports of abuse, bring to light past wrongs and put these organizations on the hook for damages.

That’s the real issue here, of course. Money.

So those entities have worked in secrecy to thwart the bill, Spencer said, just as they did three years ago when a similar bill was watered down.

The Boy Scouts of America are fighting to gut the bill, said Spencer. Also, he said lobbyists for the Georgia Catholic Conference, the insurance industry and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce are working quietly to bottle up the legislation in committee, never to see the light of day.

“This is a rerun of three years ago; they’re working the back channels,” Spencer said, referring to his 2015 bill that had portions of the bill removed, the part that held entities responsible. “They know there’s a cultural shift and public opinion is against them.”

He knows that if his bill ever makes it to the floor, no legislator in his right mind will vote against it.

Ed Lindsey, a former legislator and connected Gold Dome deal maker, knows this. He is one of several lobbyists toiling for the Boy Scouts, an org that in recent decades has taken it on the chin. (Disclosure: My youngest is an Eagle Scout and had a wonderful run in a terrific organization.)

Spencer, a Republican from Southeast Georgia, says Lindsey and other lobbyists have told him “they don’t want any liability for past acts.”

Spencer argues that victims of abuse have suffered those costs — alcoholism, drugs, psychological issues, etc.

I called Lindsey, who has never been reticent with his opinion, but he passed me to the BSA headquarters.

In a fittingly obtuse statement the Scouts said, “We do not support it in its current form, however, because it does not strengthen efforts that experts agree can help keep children safe and includes provisions that would hinder the ability of youth-serving organizations to protect the children they serve.”


Darren Penn, a lawyer who has brought forward several abuse cases, said the attitude is, “We changed our ways years ago. Why are you digging up stuff from the past?”

Penn said a Catholic church lobbyist said in a hearing, “You’re going to take food out of the mouths that the church helps.”

The Catholic lobbyist did not return messages for comment.

Two powerful words inserted into bill

What also shows the touchiness of such an effort — and how it hits home — is that Lindsey is an active member of All Saints Episcopal Church, where, according to a bio, he ushers and teaches Sunday school.

At that same church is Rev. Tim Black, the associate rector for youth. He was allegedly abused as a young Boy Scout in Gainesville from 1979 to 1981. His father reported the abuse to the First Baptist Church in Gainesville. The church in turn asked the scout leader, Fleming Weaver, to move on. Four years later while working in another post with the Scouts, Weaver allegedly abused another boy.

Black, who has spoken about his ordeal in the past, declined to comment, suggesting I talk to his lawyer.

Esther Panitch, lawyer for four ex-Scouts, including the one molested in 1985, recently filed an amended lawsuit saying that the Scouts have long engaged in a conspiracy to shield volunteers they knew were predators.

Panitch was at a subcommittee hearing Wednesday where a couple words were inserted into the bill that could neuter the legislation.

‘Destroys the soul of a person’

Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta) added that entities had to have “knowingly and willfully” concealed evidence to be successfully sued. Reeves, a former prosecutor, said abuse “destroys the soul of a person” and added that he is trying to institute a standard of evidence that is fair, not thwart the bill.

Panitch, however, told me the way it read meant “You have to prove it before you file” a suit. She said that evidence of such a conspiracy is often turned over in the discovery phase of a lawsuit, proof that bolsters a coverup occurred.

With a higher standard of proof to carry a suit, many cases would be dismissed before the victim could send out the first subpoena.

The problem in cases like this is you don’t know what you know until you know it.

And that, for the victims, is part of the problem they have suffered for years.

Later on, the committee amended the phrasing to “reckless disregard or conscious indifference.” It’s a better standard for the victims.

But it ain’t over.

Follow changes to HB 605 Hidden Predator Act on AJC Legislative Tracker

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Defense: Uber Eats driver accused of killing Morehouse grad shot in self-defense
Defense: Uber Eats driver accused of killing Morehouse grad shot in self-defense

The attorney for an Uber Eats driver accused of killing a customer wants a judge to throw out the charges against his client.   Robert Bivines’ attorney filed a request for an immunity hearing, allowing a judge to decide if his client acted in self-defense when he allegedly killed one of his customers in February. If the judge agrees...
Director Sean Anders on filming ‘Instant Family’ in Atlanta and Cobb
Director Sean Anders on filming ‘Instant Family’ in Atlanta and Cobb

Sean Anders sat in a mostly empty event space at Four Seasons Atlanta, casual in a ball cap with a “Wagner Custom Renovations” logo — a nod to the fictional company in his latest movie, “Instant Family.” He patiently awaited a delivery from South City Kitchen around the corner.  “I wasn’t really...
Texas pet shelter gets food donations from community 
Texas pet shelter gets food donations from community 

A Texas animal services company got some paw-sitive news this week, KSAT reported. >> Read more trending news  San Antonio Animal Care Services announced last week that it had just nine bags of dog food in its pantry, the television station reported. Since then, the nonprofit group had more than 8,000 pounds of pet food donated within...
Cops: Man driving 118 mph — in 45-mph zone — says he was testing new car parts
Cops: Man driving 118 mph — in 45-mph zone — says he was testing new car parts

A Lawrenceville man was cited last month after he was caught allegedly driving more than 100 mph — in a 45-mph zone, police said. Channel 2 Action News reported that a Duluth officer was patrolling on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard when he clocked a 2007 BMW going 118 mph and swerving around traffic. When he pulled the car over, the...
Massachusetts utility to provide Thanksgiving dinners to explosion victims
Massachusetts utility to provide Thanksgiving dinners to explosion victims

The utility company behind the natural gas explosions in Massachusetts in September is planning to provide 20,000 hot Thanksgiving dinners to residents who have still not returned to their homes. >> Read more trending news  Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera said meals provided by Columbia Gas will be served at the temporary trailer parks where some...
More Stories