July 1, 2013 at 1:05 PM ET
A New York federal judge on Monday tossed out three lawsuits by men who alleged former Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash sexually abused them when they were underage.
In his 28-page decision, Federal Judge Kevin Koeltl said a plaintiff has six years after the cause of action or three years after they turn 21 to file claims, and none of the three lawsuits were filed within those time frames. The three men allege that when they were minors, Clash "induced them to engage in sexual activity."
"Kevin is pleased by the judge’s decision," his attorney Michael G. Berger said in a statement. "As we have maintained all along, our goal has been to put these spurious claims behind him, so that Kevin can go about the business of re-claiming his personal life and his professional standing, which was recently recognized once again by the three Emmys he won last month. The judge’s decision to dismiss and close the three lawsuits is an important step in that direction. Kevin is looking forward to a time in the near future when he can tell his story free of innuendo and false claims.
In their claims against Clash, who resigned from "Sesame Street" in November after 28 years, the plaintiffs said they had not realized they were victimized until they learned about each other last year, "and realized they were manipulated and it was an ongoing practice."
But the judge ruled that the "plaintiffs were aware of sufficient facts immediately following their victimization by the defendant to state claims" sooner.
"They were aware of the facts that, while minors, the defendant had engaged in sexual activities with them in violation of one or more federal statutes," Koeltl wrote. "The dates on which the plaintiffs connected their psychological injuries to their victimizations are irrelevant to the dates on which their claims accrued. ... While the plaintiffs may not have recognized the extent of their injuries, they were aware of the defendant's conduct towards them and could have brought claims."
The three plaintiffs whose lawsuits have been dismissed are a 34-year-old Florida man who alleged Clash befriended him on a trip to Miami in the mid-1990s, and later arranged for the teenage boy to visit him in New York, where they engaged in sex for four days in Clash's home; Kevin Kiadii, 26, of New York who said Clash initiated contact with him on a gay chat line when he was 16 and invited him to his apartment, where they engaged in sex; and 25-year-old Cecil Singleton of New York, who was the first man to come forward and alleged in November that he and Clash engaged in an on-and-off sexual relationship that began nine years ago.
Clash resigned from "Sesame Street" after Singleton filed his $5 million lawsuit. Clash issued the following statement after stepping down: "Personal matters have diverted attention away from the important work ‘Sesame Street’ is doing and I cannot allow it to go on any longer. I am deeply sorry to be leaving and am looking forward to resolving these personal matters privately."
A lawsuit filed by 25-year-old Sheldon Stephens, of Harrisburg, Pa. is still pending. Another accuser dropped his claims in April. Jeff Herman, a Miami lawyer who represents all of the men, said in a statement that the statue of limitations "is an arbitrary timeline that silences victims" and "this is the first battle."
"We believe that the victims in this case are within the statute of limitations, but this ruling highlights the need for a window in New York to allow victims to have their day in court," Herman said. "This is the first battle. We plan to appeal the decision and continue the fight to be a voice for victims."
Clash recently won a Daytime Emmy for outstanding performer in a children's series and two others he shared with the show, totaling 26 total Emmys in his career. His work is still being shown on "Sesame Street" because it had been filmed in advance. Sesame Workshop declined to comment Monday.