This week Valerie Johnson presented sex abuse lawyer Seth Langson and advocate Robby Price the Kellie Crabtree Award at the North Carolina Advocates for Justice Convention. Seth sometimes works with CJG sex abuse lawyer, Leto Copeley, protecting the rights of crime victims. Here are her remarks:
I have the distinct honor of presenting the Kellie Crabtree award to Seth Langson and to Robby Price.
The Kellie Crabtree award is given to an attorney and to his client where the client’s story and the attorney’s representation made a big difference in protecting people’s rights.
Kellie Crabtree sustained life-threatening injuries caused by a NC Department of Transportation truck crossing the yellow line on a mountain road. Ms. Crabtree’s damages were capped at $150,000 under the State Tort Claims Act, despite the more than $275,000 in medical bills the crash caused. Her lawyer John McCabe led the charge to change the cap to $500,000 and to make it apply retroactively to Ms. Crabtree’s case. The result of that fight and the strength of that story have helped many others in the state and inspired this award.
Seth Langson is a Charlotte attorney who has represented sexual abuse victims for 30 years. His work is his passion, and his passion is protecting those who have been abused, often children, from their abusers.
It is hard work and the obstacles to justice are numerous. Sexual abuse is a difficult crime to prove. It is a difficult crime to report. Its victims are numerous yet often stigmatized and their stories marginalized. The damage is invisible yet often devastating. And the legal challenges to justice for victims are many.
North Carolina has a statute of limitations that can make it difficult to bring civil cases when the victim is ready to pursue them. It can take years for victims to come to the point that they are ready to confront the abuser; many never do. And taking those who sheltered the abusers to task for their complicity and complacency compounds the difficulties. Many lawyers would hesitate to take on institutions that are the pillars of our society: revered, respected, and considered infallible.
Yet this is just what Seth Langson decided to do.
The case for which Seth Langson is recognized is Robert Price v. Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte. It is extraordinary for many reasons. It took an extraordinary lawyer. An extraordinary client. And a story of extraordinary evil inflicted upon a boy by an abuser that used his position, his trust, his status as one who exercises the power of God on earth, to sexually abuse Robert Price.
The perpetrator was Father Robert Yurgel of St. Matthew and Our Lady of Consolation in Charlotte. Robby was 14 years old. Yurgel was 35 years old, a Capuchin Friar. He was a trusted family friend who often came to dinner. Robby’s family is devout. Yurgel’s congregation loved him and children flocked to him. The betrayal was horrific. For six months Robby was molested in multiple places, including in the sanctuary of St. Matthew.
Robby struggled with the aftermath of the abuse, and like most survivors he did not tell anyone for years. But his story could not be denied or contained. He was 23 years old when he found Seth Langson. And this story was so extreme that Seth, the lawyer that had heard it all, cried when Robby told him of Yurgel’s crimes. Seth has said that Robby deserved everything that he could possibly do for him.
Robby acted to protect other children by reporting the crimes to the police. He even called Yurgel and elicited a confession. And Robby recorded it. Yes, he got the confession on tape. Yurgel was arrested and pled guilty to second degree sexual offense against Robby. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
But rather than receive praise for his heroic actions, Robby was attacked on social media after the abuse became public. The strain on his family was immense.
The statute of limitations was problematic. Yet From the beginning Seth believed in the case, and in Robby.
This was a first: no North Carolina lawyer had ever sued the Diocese based on the claims that abuse was covered up or that the leadership of the Diocese had been complicit and even welcoming to priests who were sex abusers. It appears that Seth’s representation of Robby was the first case in which claims were brought against this Diocese for sex abuse.
The Church went after Robby and his family with all its might. The assault was mind boggling in its intensity. They claimed that Robby’s supportive parents should have known what was happening. They accused the victim of complicity in his own assaults and molestations.
The suit was filed in the Spring of 2008. Seth prepared a complaint that was almost 100 pages long and detailed everything that was available in the public record about the Diocese and sexual abuse or misconduct.
Since Yurgel was also sued individually along with his religious order in New Jersey, there were three teams of defense counsel and each defense team had two attorneys who made appearances in the case. Each could file their own discovery and of course, they took full advantage of that opportunity.
The Diocese produced around 40,000 pages of documents, many of which were stamped confidential.
Robby also had to deal with a police department that turned hostile after it became apparent to them that he was also going against the Diocese. The lead detective attended St. Matthews. The media reported on the suit being filed and then completely lost interest. No media person ever attended any of the numerous court hearings. The spotlight that shined so brightly in other places was dark in Charlotte
Yet Robby Price and Seth preserved. This was the only case Seth worked on for 3 years. He and his paralegal Fran Threscher, here today, fought back with everything they had.
Seth was able to uncover that the Diocese knew of Yurgel’s prior sexual misconduct but still let him remain in his position of trust and be around children.
Through Seth and Robby’s perseverance, they were able to arrive at a settlement from the Charlotte Diocese for a million dollars and for counseling.
Today Robby is a success story. He married his husband in Florida last year and they are expecting the arrival of their first child. In fact, he was not expecting to be able to come because of the impending birth. His parents Ann and Robert Price are here today supporting their son, as they have done despite the attacks.
Seth continues the fight against sexual abuse. For example, he is working on changes to the law to require criminal background checks for workers in public schools.
Please join with me in honoring the recipients of the 2016 Kellie Crabtree award, Seth Langson and Robby Price.