Sparks Fly Between Attorneys
(Originally published by Sports Litigation Alert on December 6, 2019, and reposted with permission)
A California jury has ruled in favor of USA Swimming in a lawsuit brought by a swimmer who had alleged sexual abuse by a coach of a local swim club.
The jury of eight women and four men deliberated less than three hours before issuing a verdict finding that USA Swimming did not fall below the standard of care, and was not responsible for the conduct of a coach employed by the former Stockton (CA) Swim Club.
USA Swimming’s attorney, William Kronenberg, of the Oakland based civil litigation law firm, Kronenberg Law, PC, claimed the jury’s decision was an important vindication of the organization’s athlete protection program.
“USA Swimming has worked very hard to develop and institute a comprehensive program to protect its swimmers,” said Kronenberg. He added that the case was the first time a jury was asked to determine whether it met the standard of care for a youth serving organization.
“The jury was presented with the entire athlete protection program, from the Code of Conduct, mandatory screening and training of coaches, to educational models for parents and swimmers along with expert testimony which found it met or exceeded the standards necessary for a safe environment,” Kronenberg said.
“Preventing sexual abuse is a specialized field that requires both extensive education, training and experience, much like that received by members of Child Protective Services, and USA Swimming has a department staffed with equally well-trained personnel. Mr. Hinchey does not have that background or training, he is the CEO, not the head of that department,” Kronenberg said.
According to Kronenberg, “The criticism of Mr. Hinchey by opposing counsel is unfair and misguided, but some attorneys prefer trying a case in the media, instead of listening to the message sent by the jury with its verdict.”
Robert Allard of Corsiglia, Mc Mahon and Allard, LLP in San Jose, who represented the swimmer, scoffed at his legal counterpart’s take.
“There is too much malarkey in here for me to fully digest and intelligently respond,” he told Sports Litigation Alert. “This ultra conservative jury in a ‘red’ venue located in California’s central valley declined to hold the national organization responsible for the molestation of my client for two reasons alone:
1) what it deemed as extreme parental neglect, highlighted by fact that the vast majority of the abuse occurred in the victim’s home and
2) bias towards a lesbian couple who decided to have a child together, highlighted by at least one juror openly displaying disgust at the lifestyle chosen by these parents.
“This case had nothing to do with any assessment of USA Swimming’s child protection system. In fact, when we talked to the jury, 100 percent of the jury deliberations focused on the parents and what they did and did not do. The only post-trial discussion we heard of USA Swimming’s ability to protect children from predators was when the jury foreperson sought out its Safe Sport Director Liz Hahn after the trial and, while pointing a finger at her, chastised her for leaving children vulnerable to rape for not mandating critical sex abuse training for children against the advice provided over five (5) years ago by renowned national expert Victor Vieth.
“Let us all hope that these sentiments expressed by this gloating lawyer are not shared by USA Swimming and that true and genuine steps are currently being taken to repair what is clearly a flawed system so that other children entrusted to the care of this organization are better protected from child molesters.”
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Sports Litigation Alert
Sports Litigation Alert tracks legal developments as they occur in amateur and professional athletics as well as legislative issues that impact sports law professionals. SLA features an extensive archive of case summaries and guest articles written by sports law professionals, and is published by veteran legal journalist Holt Hackney, whose company Hackney Publications currently produces Legal Issues in College Athletics, Sports Litigation Alert, Journal of NCAA Compliance, Legal Issues in High School Athletics, Concussion Litigation Reporter and Professional Sports and the Law.