Lexington attorneys are hopeful that a recent legal notice could move forward a long-delayed federal lawsuit stemming from child sex abuse at a government-sponsored program.
The case, Guy vs. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, has been pending in U.S. District Court in Lexington for nearly 15 years. The Urban County Government and former city officials are accused of funding the now-defunct Micro-City Government program even though officials knew director Ron Berry was sexually abusing children in the program.
The city has denied claims that officials knew about and covered up the abuse.
Attorney Sharon Morris released a legal notice to the Herald-Leader on Friday urging potential victims to come forward. Morris, who represents several people who say they were abused by Berry and others, said the notice is possibly one of the last steps needed before the case can proceed to trial.
"Once we get this notice out, the court will have to decide what's next and when the timing will be," she said. "The judge ... has indicated before that this case needs to be over and done with."
The judge also has several outstanding motions to rule on before the case can end, she said.
The legal notice says that any remaining victims who were abused while participating in Micro-City Government must contact attorneys immediately, or their ability to claim monetary damages will be lost forever.
Although the legal notice urges victims to call Morris' law firm to determine if they are eligible, she said the notice was not an advertisement for the services of her firm, Morris & Morris. She said Judge William O. Bertelsman, a retired U.S. District Court judge from Northern Kentucky who is presiding over the case, ordered the plaintiffs to release the notice.
Morris said potential victims could call other attorneys if they wished, but she noted that her firm can tell almost immediately whether a claim is valid. Morris' firm has been involved in the case since 2001, three years after it was first filed.
The case has gone through many twists and turns in a journey Morris described as "tortured." At one time, more than 150 alleged victims were named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
However, a judge ruled in 2009 that anyone who was older than 19 when the case was filed in October 1998 had exceeded the statute of limitations and could not stake a claim. As a result, most plaintiffs were dismissed from the case because they were too old. Morris said she represents five people now, and other attorneys represent about 15.
Morris appealed that ruling, but the Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld it in May. Since then, several people have contacted Morris claiming they were victims of abuse when they were children, but they have been unable to join the lawsuit.
Morris said it was unlikely that the recent legal notice would produce any more eligible plaintiffs due to the statute-of-limitations ruling. However, the notice was a good-faith effort "just in case."
Those whose claims exceed the statute of limitations may join the lawsuit if they suffer from a legal or mental disability.
Berry started Micro-City Government in 1969 to introduce disadvantaged youths to public service. He was convicted in 2000 of 12 counts of third-degree sodomy of a victim younger than 16. He completed a three-year sentence in 2005.
The program was heavily funded by the Urban County Government. The lawsuit alleges city officials ignored the abuse because Berry used his political clout to deliver votes to city elected officials.
The city settled two other suits related to the Berry case for a total of $2.85 million. One payout in 2002 was to 17 former plaintiffs for a total of $2.4 million, one of the largest payouts in city history.
Were you a victim?
Victims of sexual abuse at Micro-City Government must join the lawsuit or file a new one immediately to retain their right to sue. Victims may call Morris & Morris law firm at (859) 281-6981 or visit its office, 217 North Upper Street, Lexington.
Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.