June 24 – CONCORD – Leading lawyers for victims of alleged sexual and physical abuse at Manchester’s Youth Development Center have accused the state’s proposed guidelines for damages of being “insulting”.
David Vicinanzo and Rus Rilee have written a letter to Attorney General John Formella, saying the state’s proposed payouts from a $100 million fund fall far short of the damages judges and juries have awarded in courts across the country.
Last week, the AG’s office presented the Joint Legislative Committee with worksheets outlining proposed “baseline” rewards ranging from $25,000 to $200,000 for five categories of sexual assault.
Lawyers condemned a proposal for basic compensation of $200,000 for rape and $50,000 for physical violence resulting in “permanent or life-threatening bodily harm”.
“By any standard, these amounts are extremely low and apparently driven by the state’s desire to resolve as many claims as possible under the caps, not a sense of fairness or decency,” wrote the lawyers.
The AG’s office responded that officials there were “disappointed” with the letter and that the office was engaged in a collaborative process on how state attorneys would adjudicate claims for damages- interests.
According to the legislation (HB 1677), any victim who is not satisfied with the decision of the AG can appeal to an independent administrator.
“The letter sent by attorneys Rilee and Vicinanzo appears to be designed to score points in the press and not to provide substantive comment and further efforts to help victims,” said the AG statement released by Michael Garrity, Director of Communications and Legislative Affairs. .
State prosecutors pointed out that base awards were intended as a starting point for damages and could be increased based on the individual circumstances victims faced.
Settlements reached in nearly 5,000 cases nationwide served as the basis for the state’s proposed awards, officials said.
Lawyers for the victims said their own investigation found the average amount of jury or settlement awards in cases like the New Hampshire case was “nearly $1.5 million”.
They accused state prosecutors of excluding “comparable cases” that would have resulted in higher rewards.
The state’s proposal “is a transparent effort to drive down settlement values that does not deceive anyone,” the attorneys said.
The parties disagreed on whether these victims retained the right to sue if they agreed to enter into negotiations with the state over damages.
“This means that the victim is required by the state that abused them to waive all their rights before there is any guarantee that they will receive fair compensation, or compensation of any kind,” victims’ lawyers argued. .
The AG’s office countered that the state’s new law allows a victim unhappy with the state’s settlement offer to return to court to resume their trial rather than appeal to the administrator. .
“Our ultimate goal is a process that helps victims. We would like to emphasize that YDC victims who file a lawsuit can also file a claim in this process,” the AG’s office concluded.
The lawyers represent nearly 600 people housed at the YDC or its successor Sununu Youth Services Center.
The YDC has been under criminal investigation since 2019. Victims made allegations about 150 staff members from 1960 to 2018.
Ten former YDC employees and one from a remand center in Concord have been charged with sexually assaulting or being complicit in attacks on more than a dozen teenagers from 1994 to 2007.
While the cases date back to 1963, Vicinanzo said most of them took place in the 1990s.
The center is large enough to accommodate 144 minors, but has only a dozen teenagers left.
The legislature ordered the state to replace the center with a smaller complex by March 2023.
State health and human services officials called the TSWT too aggressive, but an attempt to push the TSWT back a few years failed in the Legislature last month.