Gov. Newsom signs AB 3092, allowing Heaps survivors more time to file civil charges
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill Tuesday that will give people who were sexually assaulted at University of California medical clinics more time to file charges. (Creative Commons photo by Steven Pavlov)
A new California law will give people who were sexually assaulted at University of California medical clinics more time to file civil charges.
CA Assembly Bill 3092 will give sexual assault survivors until the end of 2021 to file charges against former UCLA doctor James Heaps. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law, according to a Tuesday press release from the governor’s office.
Under California law, survivors of sexual assault can only file lawsuits up to 10 years after the incident happened, or three years after they discovered their injury from the assault. AB 3092 provides an exception for people who were sexually assaulted at UC medical clinics, who can now file for civil action until Dec. 31, 2021. The bill only applies to sexual assault claims that occurred between Jan. 1, 1983 and Jan. 1, 2019.
“This legislation will help empower survivors of crime and abuse to speak out against their abusers and provide them more time to seek justice,” Newsom said in the press release.
AB 3092 will make it easier for survivors of sexual assault to sue UCLA officials who knew about the accusations against Heaps, but did not immediately take action against him, said John Manly, an attorney who represents more than 100 plaintiffs who filed lawsuits against Heaps and UCLA in a press release.
Heaps is charged with 20 felony counts of sexual misconduct by seven former patients. Heaps was an obstetrician-gynecologist at UCLA Health between 2014 and 2018 and a faculty member of the David Geffen School of Medicine from 1989 until 2018.
“There is no statute of limitations on the suffering of these women,” Manly said. “There should not be a statute of limitations on their ability to seek justice.”
Julie Wallach, who said Heaps sexually assaulted her in 1998, said the bill is long overdue. Wallach also said she filed a complaint against Heaps in 1999 to the Medical Board of California and the chief of staff at the UCLA medical center, who did not reprimand Heaps.
Wallach testified on the legislature floor in support of AB 3092, according to the press release.
Manly, the attorney representing Wallach, said that before the bill was passed, the UC could have challenged a potential lawsuit from Wallach on the basis that the case had passed the statute of limitations. Manly said he and Wallach plan to file a lawsuit against the Board of Regents, Heaps and other individuals who did not protect Wallach after her assault.
Wallach said by lifting the statute of limitations, the California Legislature gave her and hundreds of other women the chance to be heard and believed.
“(The victims who came forward) are people who … are emotionally positioned to speak out,” Wallach said. “Behind them are countless women who might never feel they can do that because it’s so incredibly traumatic.”
California Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, Assemblyman David Chiu and State Sen. Connie Leyva co-wrote the bill.
Wicks said in an emailed statement that she is grateful that Newsom is supporting the women who are speaking out against Heaps.
“Sexual assault survivors face enough challenges when it comes to speaking up about their experience – they don’t deserve to encounter additional obstacles caused by outdated policies found in current law,” Wicks said.
Wallach said it was very important to her that the legislature voted for the bill with bipartisan support. The strong support for the bill shows the legislature is committed to supporting sexual assault victims, she added.
AB 3092 is one of several bills signed by Newsom simultaneously that support sexual assault survivors, according to the Tuesday press release. Newsom also signed laws that aim to relieve financial strains on domestic violence centers, provided amnesty for survivors of sexual assault and allowed courts to consider acts of coercive control when deciding child custody.
Tracy Green, a lawyer who represents Heaps, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Darren Kavinoky, a lawyer representing at least three survivors who filed civil lawsuits against Heaps, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Heaps is currently released on bail. His next court appearance is Thursday.