Attorneys for a retired NYPD Sergeant last week filed a court action seeking a special master ahead of proceedings that could implicate a Rockefeller University Hospital doctor of having sexually abused hundreds of young boys decades ago.
The filing, in state Supreme Court, follows state legislation signed into law in February that allows victims to pursue legal action that would have otherwise been precluded by what is now a 5-year statute of limitations. That portion of the legislation permitting lawsuits for “time-barred” incidents, however, called for a six-month waiting period, meaning lawsuits cannot proceed until August.
Attorneys for the retired Sergeant say the special master could and should ensure that past victims’ claims are not undermined by the loss of records and archives, or unduly influenced by defendants’ lawyers.
“People should be getting neutral information from a neutral court-appointed master giving them information about their rights and the resources available to them,” Barbara Hart, one of the retired Sergeant’s lawyers, said. “Right now, they’re getting information from the hospital’s lawyers...and that’s not a level playing field.”
Ms. Hart said the Special Master would also ensure that potential evidence—records, correspondence, photographs and X-rays, among other matter—is preserved intact.
Like possibly scores and even hundreds of young boys, the retired sergeant, John Corcoran, now in his 70s, was asked to strip naked and then examined by Dr. Reginald Archibald before entering a pool at what was then the Madison Square Boys Club on East 29th St., ostensibly as part of the doctor’s study of childhood growth.
Mr. Corcoran was a pre-adolescent at the time.
“He would inspect the boys before they went to swim naked...In our estimation, it was used as pretext for access to these children,” Ms. Hart said of Dr. Archibald's study. “Loving parents were manipulated in that way.”
The young John Corcoran, and scores if not hundreds of other boys, saw the doctor for years, she said.
Research Lasted Until 1980
According to court documents, Dr. Archibald was a visiting investigator at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, which later became Rockefeller University, in 1940, and an assistant resident physician from 1941 through 1946. Following a tenure at Johns Hopkins University, he returned to Rockefeller in 1948 as a senior physician and professor, becoming professor emeritus in 1980. He retained medical staff privileges until 1982. Dr. Archibald died in May 2007.
According to a 1977 bulletin of education research from the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, his study started in 1960 and was to last until 1980.
Ms. Hart said the number of letters Rockefeller has sent to known patients of Dr. Archibald indicate that there may have been as many as 1,000 or more boys who were subjected to his abuse.
“We have reason to believe Dr. Archibald was treating boys outside this shortness study,” she said.
Senate Change Spurred Law
Until this year, the statute of limitations precluded long-ago victims from pursuing claims. But after more than 10 years of effort, state lawmakers—with Democrats holding a clear majority in the State Senate after last November’s elections—were able to overcome opposition, chiefly from religious leaders but also from private schools, and pass the Child Victims Act, which Governor Cuomo signed in February.
The filing’s objective is to preserve the rights of victims, Ms. Hart said.
“Our goal is to level the playing field. These survivors do not know their rights. We want a retired judge or law professor or statesperson to act as a neutral and stop anyone from getting taken advantage of during this pre-August waiting period,” she said. “When the statute of limitations is lifted in August, Mr. Corcoran will do what he sees fit.”
The retired Sergeant received a two-paragraph letter from the hospital alluding to “reports from several former patients regarding Dr. Archibald’s interactions with them.” The Sept. 26, 2018, letter suggested that those patients who “may have been...seen” by Dr. Archibald and who “have information you would like to share regarding your interactions with Dr. Archibald” call an attorney with the Debevoise & Plimpton law firm.
The firm has long represented the Rockefeller family and its interests, a fact not made clear in the letter. Mr. Corcoran called.
Ms. Hart said that during a call, the attorney was not forthcoming.
“They didn’t tell him that the law was imminently about to change so he could consider his course of action,” or that he was speaking with lawyers essentially doing an investigation until some time into the phone conversation, she said.
The September letter “re-opened wounds and re-traumatized Plaintiff” and also created a discovery opportunity for Rockefeller University and Debevoise, according to court documents tied to the filing.
A phone message left with the Debevoise lawyer, Helen Cantwell, was not returned.
Mr. Corcoran’s younger brother was also seen by Dr. Archibald, according to the filing. “As the older brother, Plaintiff unwittingly became a conduit to his younger sibling for Dr. Archibald’s abuse,” the filing reads. The brothers had never spoken about his experiences at Rockefeller University until Mr. Corcoran received the letter.
She said a court-appointed special master could make certain that any and all victims of Dr. Archibald’s alleged abuse, as well as their families if the victims are dead, receive notice of the change in the law. She also said it was imperative that Debevoise lawyers discontinue their outreach to former patients.
‘Stop Talking to Victims’
“The lawyers for the hospital need to be stopped from interviewing these victims and asking them leading questions and taking witness statements by people who are survivors who are not represented by counsel,” she said. “People like our client who would have suppressed...these memories are entitled to come forward,” she said.
Rockefeller University Hospital, which bills itself as the "world's leading biomedical university," released a statement last October saying, in part, that the institution was informed in 2004 of a report by a patient of Dr. Archibald’s “related to the propriety of certain of Dr. Archibald’s conduct during physical examinations.” University administrators subsequently notified Federal, state and city officials and also asked Debevoise to investigate. The law firm reviewed information, conducted interviews with former patients and hospital officials and also located “two prior reports” dating to the 1990s. Its review concluded “it was likely that some of Dr. Archibald’s behavior toward this patient was inappropriate.”
When another of his former patients made similar claims last year, another investigation by Debevoise ensued, and arrived at similar conclusions.
Dr. Archibald’s emeritus status has since been rescinded, the hospital’s statement said, as have references to him on the hospital’s and the university’s webpages.