Brian E. Hurley, an Ohio litigator who helped win the only criminal conviction against a Catholic archdiocese in the U.S. for failure to report sex abuse crimes against children, is leading two cases against Planned Parenthood for allegedly ignoring laws that require reporting suspected or known abuse of minors. The Legal Life Defense Foundation is providing support to Mr. Hurley and his co-counsel on these two cases. Mr. Hurley and a team of four other litigators represent clients who have alleged that Planned Parenthood clinic staff members, who as health care workers must report suspected sexual abuse of minors, failed to do so in two separate cases when girls came to the agency for abortions. His clients have alleged that, in violation of the law, clinic personnel failed to report the abuse and returned the teens to their adult male abusers.
Mr. Hurley, who has been practicing law since 1979, is recognized by Law & Politics as one of the Top 100 Lawyers in Ohio and one of the Top 50 Lawyers in Cincinnati, and has been named an Ohio “Super Lawyer” (the top 5 percent) every year since 2004. He focuses on litigation, including governmental, commercial, insurance, product liability, personal injury, legal and medical malpractice, civil rights, employment and law enforcement litigation. The managing partner of the Cincinnati office of Crabbe, Brown & James, LLC, he is a former First Assistant with the Hamilton County, Ohio Prosecutor’s Office. During his time in the prosecutor’s office, he helped establish the first local witness protection program in Ohio. He earned his J.D. at the Ohio State University College of Law and was an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law and Northern Kentucky University. He teaches, consults, and writes in his field, and his volunteer work includes coaching youth basketball and baseball and providing legal and financial advice to his parish. He and his wife, Monica, have been married 29 years and are the parents of three adult sons: Kevin, Michael, and Thomas Hurley.
What was the result of your prosecution of the case against the Catholic Church in Ohio?
In 2003, the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati was convicted of five misdemeanor counts of failing to report sexual abuse of children, after pleading no contest to charges. It was the first, and I believe the only, criminal conviction of a diocese in connection with the scandal relating to the abuse of minors. I am a Catholic, and several people have asked me if it was difficult for me to work on the case. My answer is that it was not. Although the Church has done and continues to do many wonderful things, when it comes to the law, people who hide abuse don’t get a pass. The Catholic Church will ultimately be stronger when it apologizes and takes full responsibility for the role of certain of its leaders in this tragic situation.
Many people believe that Planned Parenthood provides valuable health care services. Have you heard complaints about the two cases you are leading against that organization?
Yes. This is certainly one of the more significant problems we face in these two cases. Many people think very highly of Planned Parenthood. But I ask these people, how do my cases differ from the abuse cases against the Catholic Church? Should Planned Parenthood get a pass merely because it may provide some services that help people? It really is quite simple; the Catholic Church is not above the law and neither is Planned Parenthood. There is no intellectually honest way to distinguish between the two situations.
Are there other hurdles in the two cases?
Yes. Planned Parenthood hires very talented lawyers and will fund the cases to enable it to litigate for years. In addition, Planned Parenthood has a history of being very successful in the courts. We intend to win these cases, but I grossly underestimated the amount of time and money it will take to do so. The first case was filed two years ago, and far too much time has already been spent litigating and re-litigating virtually every possible issue that could be raised. It is my opinion that this is part of a strategy to make it prohibitively expensive and time-consuming for us to prosecute the claims. Planned Parenthood has also tried to present this case as a challenge to Roe v. Wade, but it is not. This case is about Planned Parenthood being required, like every other business in Ohio, to follow the law of Ohio. Quite simply, Planned Parenthood doesn’t get special treatment merely because it is part of the abortion industry.
Why did you take these time-consuming cases?
It is extremely important that the most vulnerable in our society are protected, and the young and poor are very vulnerable. In both cases we are representing individuals who were teenagers when they became pregnant and were poor. One is now a young woman who was 16 years old when she came to Planned Parenthood for an abortion. She was accompanied by her father, who was also the father of her unborn child and had been sexually abusing her for four years. She states that she told a Planned Parenthood employee that she was the victim of sexual abuse, but a report of that abuse was never made. Tragically she was sent home, and her father continued to abuse her for another almost two years. When someone finally listened to her, her father was arrested and convicted. He is now serving a 5-year prison term. Our other client was 13 years old when she became pregnant by her 21-year-old soccer coach. Someone needed to stand up for these young women because, quite frankly, it was the right thing to do. It still is the right thing to do.
One thing that has bothered me since these cases were commenced is the disdain with which Planned Parenthood has treated our clients. It reminds me of a line from an old Irish ballad: “They scorned us just for being what we are.” Planned Parenthood has shown scorn for our clients’ merely because of who they are. By doing so, it has shown scorn for the very people who comprise such a large percentage of its customer base.
What inspired you to stand up for these vulnerable teens?
As I said earlier, our clients are part of a group that is the most vulnerable in our society. They need the most, not the least, protection. If no one stands up for them, others like them will be abused. I attribute this attitude directly to the lessons I learned from my parents. I had a younger brother, Terry, who at the age of six months contracted meningitis. He was left blind, mentally diminished, and bed-ridden. It would have been so easy, as some doctors advised, for my parents to put him in an institution. But if you ever met my parents, you would know that would never happen. They cared for him at home. He was not expected to survive infancy, but he lived for 38 years. At the same time, my parents, who had 11 children and were not wealthy, took in my dad’s brother, Jack, who had Down syndrome. My parents are humble people, and if you mentioned how they made sacrifices and put love into action, they would be embarrassed. My parents did not talk about caring for family members—they simply did it, and my brothers and sisters saw it. When friends would come to the house, they would naturally meet my brother and my uncle. The unspoken message was, “This is our brother. This is our uncle. This is who we are, and Terry and Jack are part of our family.” When my brother died in 2000, hundreds of people came to the funeral. It was packed, just packed. I joked with my brother, Tim, who is also an attorney, that even though Terry never said a word and was bed-ridden his entire life, there were probably twice as many people at Terry’s funeral as would come to either of our funerals. I see the impact of my uncle’s and brother’s lives and my parents’ example on our family: among my siblings are two teachers, a missionary in Haiti, a nurse, a sister involved in the Cerebral Palsy Foundation. All of my sisters helped care for my brother Terry. Unbeknownst to them, my brother and uncle were mentors to me and helped me form my beliefs about protecting those in our society who need the most protection. Today I try to be a staunch defender of the least protected of our society: the disabled, the infirm, the young, and the poor.
Given Planned Parenthood’s successful track record in court, what keeps you going?
We have received a great deal of support from so many people, including many who are pro-choice with respect to abortion. In addition, we have a great team of five lawyers, which is one of the reasons we have a reasonably good chance of winning. All of us are very experienced litigators. Among the four more experienced team members, the one with the least amount of litigation experience has been in practice 27 years. We have an opportunity to make a lasting impact—a chance to help protect minors from abuse as required by the law. I hope that LLDF supporters will continue their generous support for these two potentially precedent-setting cases.