By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — Only one claim has been settled under the Youth Development Center Settlement Fund in the first quarter of this year.
To date the claims operation has received 38 applications since it opened its doors Jan. 1.
Last year, the state approved a $100 million settlement fund to compensate an estimated 1,300 victims suing the state claiming they suffered sexual or physical abuse at the hands of state workers at the center or other state facilities, some with lifelong trauma.
According to the fund administrator, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick, only one of the 38 applicants has a case pending in the courts.
The first case alleging abuse will go to trial in April 2024 in Rockingham County Superior Court, and Broderick told the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee Friday, many victims are waiting to see the outcome of that case before deciding which avenue to pursue.
The fund was intended to provide an avenue outside the court system for resolving the abuse claims, but Broderick noted so far the vast majority of the hundreds and hundreds of cases are still before the court system.
“I want this system to work,” Broderick said. “It may require some adjustments to meet the goals you want.”
He said he is willing to sit down with the committee or several members to discuss some ideas he has to make the system more attractive to bring more victims into the claims process instead of letting the courts decide.
He noted the deadline for filing claims is Dec. 31, 2024 and the first case may not be decided by that time if it goes through the appeal process.
“It will be profoundly sad if 20 months from now the fund closes and not many people came into the system,” Broderick said. “At that point, the only place to go is the court system.”
The claims process is confidential, but once the cases go to trial they are likely to draw the public’s and the press’s attention, he noted.
Lawyers for the victims have criticized the settlement fund’s parameters limiting awards, saying their clients are likely to receive better benefits from a jury.
Under the program, the base award for someone who was raped is between $150,000 and $200,000, and for physical abuse between $2,500 and $50,000 depending on the severity of the abuse.
The one case that was settled was for $170,000 but had not been paid by March 31 when the first quarterly report closed.
The 38 claims filed seek nearly $40 million, with 22 claiming both sexual and physical abuse, 11 claiming sexual abuse, and five claiming physical abuse.
Broderick said it is difficult to tell how many claims will be filed or how much they will seek going forward.
“There is simply no way of knowing at this early date,” he writes in the report. “Nevertheless, inquiries and dialogue during Quarter 1 give a fair indication that more claims will be filed and new claims may exceed those filed in Quarter 1.”
Committee member Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, asked Broderick about administrative costs, noting so far they total almost $1 million.
Broderick said he wanted his office from the beginning to be able to handle a significant number of claims in a timely manner while adhering to all the legislative requirements.
“It is my goal to keep administrative costs as low as possible, in order that funding go to the victims of abuse,” he said.
There is a fair amount of misinformation out there and a fair amount of ignorance out there on how this is going to work. he said.
“We are trauma informed,” Broderick said, “the court system is not trauma informed, it is often trauma inducive.”
He said he met with many of the stakeholders including counsels for the victims and has scheduled another meeting at the end of the month.
“At the end of the day, my interest is exactly the same as yours,” Broderick said, “and the same as those (who were) sexually and physically assaulted.”
The initial lawsuit was filed more than three years ago, alleging sexual and physical abuse at the hands of workers at the Manchester center stretching over three decades.
The first two dozen filers claimed the YDC had a culture of violence that harmed many for their lifetimes.
The victims claim the people in charge knew about the abuse, but covered it up. They claim the state was negligent in overseeing the center and its operations.
A dozen or so former employees have been arrested and charged with sexual and physical abuse, but have yet to go to trial.
The legislature has tried for several terms to close what is now the Sununu Youth Services Center, but just this session approved two bills that would extend its operations until a new smaller facility can be built.
The language to build a new facility is currently in the proposed operating budget for the next biennium, which the House has passed and the Senate is working on now
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.