For almost two decades, lawyers at the Bridgeport firm of Tremont Sheldon Robinson Mahoney have taken seriously the complaints of child sexual abuse plaintiffs. The firm took on the Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport and Hartford's St. Francis Hospital, winning millions in damages. Now, the details of a long-running grand jury investigation have rocked Penn State University with a stunning child sexual abuse scandal. Public opinion and awareness has markedly changed since the late Paul Tremont, a founding partner, filed his first suits against pedophile priests in 1993. "It was a very unwelcoming climate for these kinds of cases," says partner Cynthia Robinson, who has focused her practice on child sexual abuse cases.
As the Penn State sexual assault scandal continues to unfold, the story takes place against a media and legal backdrop that has evolved considerably in light of previous sex abuse cases. Plaintiffs attorneys and legal experts who have worked with victims of sexual abuse note the sea change in the way such cases have been covered and litigated. And the changes in how the media and the public discuss these topics have had a significant impact on how judges and juries think and act. "Thirty years ago if you brought a case against a revered institution"--be it Penn State, the Catholic Church or the Boy Scouts, says trial attorney Raymond Boucher--"the jury would look at you with a jaundiced eye." Over the past three decades, the media, too, have become less jaundiced, says Boucher, a partner at Kiesel Boucher & Larson and the lead attorney for plaintiffs who brought clergy sexual abuse claims against the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles--which garnered one of the largest settlements of its kind with the church in 2007. Cindy Robinson's Connecticut firm, Tremont Sheldon Robinson Mahoney, was among the first to start litigating clergy