Despite expressing sympathy for the “unspeakable sexual abuse” suffered by hundreds of students, a federal judge dismissed some of the biggest unsettled lawsuits against Ohio State University for allegedly failing to stop now-deceased physician Richard Strauss from victimizing them. The judge found that the claims arrived in court too late for the students to obtain relief.
“It is beyond dispute that plaintiffs, as well as hundreds of other former students, suffered unspeakable sexual abuse by Strauss,” U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson wrote in a 25-page ruling on Wednesday. “It is also true that many Plaintiffs and other students complained of Strauss’s abuse over the years and yet medical doctors, athletic directors, head and assistant coaches, athletic trainers, and program directors failed to protect these victims from Strauss’s predation.”
The introduction states that the legal system “failed” these students.
“For decades, many at Ohio State tasked with protecting and training students and young athletes instead turned a blind eye to Strauss’s exploitation,” the opinion states. “From 1979 to 2018, Ohio State utterly failed these victims. Plaintiffs beseech this Court to hold Ohio State accountable, but today, the legal system also fails Plaintiffs.”
Judge Watson, a George W. Bush appointee, found that while the students’ allegations “cry out” for relief, the “existing” statute of limitations forbid it.
“If there is a viable path forward for Plaintiffs on their claim against Ohio State, it starts with the legislature rather than the judiciary,” he wrote.
New York state created a temporary window suspending the statute of limitations on historic sexual abuse claims through the Child Victims Act, which initially allowed previously time-barred cases to be filed between August 2019 and August 2020. That deadline was subsequently extended one year to this past Aug. 13, allowing high-profile lawsuits—including ones against Prince Andrew and folk music legend Bob Dylan—to stream into court just before the deadline expired.
Judge Watson appeared to criticize Ohio’s legislature for not following the Empire State’s lead.
“At all times since the filing of these cases, the Ohio legislature had the power, but not the will, to change the statute of limitations for these Plaintiffs,” the judge wrote in the conclusion.
Stephen Estey, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told Law&Crime that the university “betrayed its student athletes by allowing a known sexual predator (Dr. Strauss) to repeatedly rape them (under the guise of medical care).”
“OSU refuses to hold itself accountable for its actions and continued this betrayal today by requesting a judge (who had a motion for recusal on file against him based upon the appearance of a conflict of interest) to dismiss the case so that these students get zero compensation for the lifetime of harm OSU has caused them,” Estey said.
Citing the examples of University of Southern California, Michigan State University and Penn State, Estey noted that other schools have recognized and “taken care of the survivors they failed to protect.”
“OSU’s conduct is despicable and the fact the Big 10, NCAA, et al have done nothing about it speaks volumes,” Estey wrote in an email. “These institutions are more concerned about money than the safety of their student athletes. My clients are hoping that this injustice done to them motivates both the state and national legislatures to take action and change the laws in order to protect survivors of sexual assault. If they don’t change the laws, then this athlete abuse will continue to happen and institutions like OSU will continue to benefit financially from its student athletes but do nothing to protect them.”
Strauss died by suicide after being accused of sexual assault by former student athletes. In early 2020, multiple former OSU wrestlers went on record to say that Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a former assistant coach, knew about the abuse and did nothing to stop it.
Jordan has denied the allegations.
“The idea that I wouldn’t stand up for these athletes is ridiculous. I feel sorry for these guys, the fact that they aren’t telling the truth,” Jordan said in March 2020. “I mean these are guys I trained with, these are guys I worked out with, I ran with, wrestled with, and the idea that now they are saying what they are, it’s just not true.”
The Associated Press noted that lawsuit related to Strauss streamed into court by the dozen this year, and many of those matters remain pending. OSU’s attorney did not immediately respond to Law&Crime’s press inquiry.
Read the ruling below:
(Image via WCMH screengrab)
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