CONCORD — New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella has taken the unusual step of asking a judge to throw out lawsuits filed by alleged abuse victims at the Manchester Youth Development Center but then invited them to refile the suit with more details.
And Formella issued a press release to explain himself.
“The fact that the State is filing these motions should in no way be considered as a lack of support for the victims of crime,” reads a news release issued Tuesday.
But the lawyer representing the victims said the state should go after itself the same way it did the Catholic Church in the 2000s.
“The Administration’s approach to defending these lawsuits is tone-deaf,” Bedford lawyer Rus Rilee wrote in an email. “Instead of supporting these brave survivors, it is revictimizing and retraumatizing them at every turn, and it is wrong.”
Formella’s criminal division is investigating years of alleged abuse by state-employed staff at state run juvenile detention facilities such as the YDC and Sununu Youth Services Center, both in Manchester.
Ten people have been indicted. Most allegations involve some sort of sexual abuse.
Meanwhile, Formella’s civil division is trying to fend off lawsuits filed by the alleged victims in the criminal case.
In May, a judge ruled against granting class-action status that would consolidate all claims into a single lawsuit. That prompted individual lawsuits that now number 102 suits filed on behalf of 434 plaintiffs, according to Rilee.
Most of the claims have very limited information, according to Formella’s statement. He said the state needs more information regarding the claims.
It asks for a judge to throw out the case but understands they may be refiled with additional information. They can also refile the new complaints under seal, to the extent permitted by law, the statement reads.
Rilee is handling two of the lawsuits that Formella wants dismissed. Rilee is unlikely to file a replacement under seal; he took a case to the New Hampshire Supreme Court in order to sue the Department for Children, Youth and Families in open court over abuse of children in that agency’s care.
Many of the lawsuits against YDC are filed under John Doe or Jane Doe pseudonyms.
But one of the two that Formella sought to throw out names the former YDC resident.
The lawsuit lacks many details and only said the plaintiff suffered from physical, sexual and other forms of abuse. It names some perpetrators in full and the last name of a teacher. Otherwise, it identifies perpetrators as Ron and Rhonda Rhodes 1 to 100.
The lawsuit says that discovery — the mutual sharing of information connected to a legal action — is ongoing.
In its filing, the state complained about a lack of specificity and said it is unlikely that any set of facts exist that would support the claims.
Rilee said the state’s position is patently absurd.
“The State is saying on the one hand that it doesn’t have enough information to defend these lawsuits, but on the other hand that it has more than enough information to prosecute the abusers,” he said.