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Uller Sex Abuse Filings Could Trickle In For Years
By Jorge Casuso
May 23, 2023 -- When the City Council last month voted to settle the remaining sexual abuse cases filed by 124 plaintiffs against the City, officials announced the closure of a tragic chapter in Santa Monica history.
The settlement for $122.5 million brought to $229,825,000 the amount paid to 229 plaintiffs who had filed cases by December 31 in what could be the largest sex abuse settlement by a U.S. city.
"We are glad to put this behind us," Mayor Gleam Davis said after the vote. "This was a sad chapter in our City's history" ("Council Votes to Settle Remaining Sexual Abuse Cases for $122.5 Million," April 25, 2023).
But plaintiffs who claim they were sexually abused as children by former City employer Eric Uller could continue filing cases for years -- although the previous flood of filings will likely become a trickle.
That's because sexual abuse victims have more time to report allegations and file a lawsuit under a California law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019.
"It's not over," said attorney Catherine Lerer, whose firm McGee Lerer & Associates filed 14 of the cases the Council voted to settle last month. "It's definitely not over."
Lerer -- who has been advertising for clients using a mug shot of Uller -- said she has fielded nearly a dozen calls from alleged victims after national media reported the settlements last month.
"I'm continuing to get calls," Lerer said. "I don't know why (city officials) think all the cases have been filed. They must think the well has run dry. It was wishful thinking."
One year after Sheriff's deputies arrested Ulller in October 2018 for lewd and lascivious acts with a minor 14 or 15 years old, California's statute of limitations changed for child sex abuse cases.
Before Governor Gavin Newsom signed the new law on October 13, 2019, survivors were required to file a lawsuit by the time they turned 26.
Under the new statute, a felony sex offense "alleged to have been committed when the victim was under 18 years of age, may be commenced any time prior to the victim’s 40th birthday."
Most of Uller's alleged victims were Latino boys between the ages of 12 and 15 from the Pico Neighborhood, according to Dave Ring, who represented most of the plaintiffs in the second settlement. The youngest was eight.
Uller -- who committed suicide three weeks after his arrest -- is alleged to have engaged in sexual abuse with the boys between the late 1980s and early 2000s while volunteering at the City's Police Activities League (PAL).
As a result, younger victims abused at the tail end of the alleged serial crimes could file cases for approximately another decade.
"The vast majority have come forward," Lerer said, "but I know there are victims out there under 40 because I have been contacted by them."
The cases will not only be far fewer, they will be much harder to settle or win, said Lerer.
"There certainly will be a heightened level of scrutiny," she said. "The concern has always been whether there's fraud going on, so we always have to vet our cases very carefully."
Lerer said that most of the victims who have recently contacted her live outside of Santa Monica and only learned about the case after the settlements made national news last month.
In addition, an LA Times investigation that reported Santa Monica police "missed repeated warnings that Uller was a predator" was picked up by major media outlets.
"They saw (Uller's) photo and were shocked to learn they weren't the only one," Lerer said. "I think there will be victims that come forward for years."
The City did not submit a requested comment by deadline.
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