The swimming community in the Washington area has been rocked by news that a prominent swimming coach, Rick Curl, has been accused for having sexual relations with an underaged girl in the 1980s. The report below details a settlement under which the girl agreed to remain silent about the allegations — allowing Curl to continue to coach and participate in the U.S. Olympic team staff. USA Swimming has issued a statement on the controversy.
Curl is the founder of the Curl Burke swim club and has now taken a leave of action. For full disclosure, three of my four children swim in this area for the Chesterbrook Tiger Sharks which are the Division One champs (which is part of USA Swimming). They have not been part of the Rick Curl program, though it is a well known presence in the area and has many elite swimmers.
Kelley Currin, whose maiden name was Kelley Davies, had decided to break the agreement after decades of silence. She said Curl had sexual relations with her for four years beginning in 1983, when she was 13. At the time, he was 33.
Currin’s parents, Gerald and Pamela Davies, learned of the alleged relationship after reading her diary — soon before she left for the University of Texas on a swimming scholarship in 1987. She says that their lawyer discouraged them from going to the police. I am not sure why any lawyer would give such advice. Indeed, it seems to raise serious ethical issues in light of the serious criminal offense. Moreover, I am unsure why parents would yield to such advice. Putting aside the natural impulse to mete out justice on a personal level, I cannot imagine treating this as a simple civil matter as a parent particularly given the risk of a habitual offender in this category of crime. However, in 1989, the parties reached a non-disclosure agreement under which Curl agreed to compensate the family $150,000 over 11 years for the “pain and suffering experienced by her” if she agreed not to press charges or speak publicly. Paying for an alleged victim not to go to police raises ethical issues.
First, I am skeptical that such an agreement could be enforced on public policy grounds.
Second, it could itself be viewed as a crime. The New York Bar dealt with this question:
A lawyer representing the aggrieved party in a case in which there is potential criminal as well as civil liability should also be cautious when a potential defendant requests a non-reporting agreement because the aggrieved party threatened prosecution before seeking advice of counsel. In such a case, and particularly if the potential defendant remains unrepresented, the lawyer who represents the potential plaintiff/complaining witness must bear in mind that it is a form of extortion, punishable as a felony, to obtain property from a person by instilling in him or her a fear that, if the property is not delivered, the actor or another will accuse some person of a crime or cause criminal charges to be instituted against him. N.Y. Penal Law ss 155.05(2)(e), 155.30(6). It is an affirmative defense to this crime that the accused “reasonably believed the threatened charge to be true and that his sole purpose was to compel or induce the victim to take reasonable action to make good the wrong which was the subject of such threatened charge.” N.Y. Penal Law s 155.15(2). If it is unreasonable to believe that a crime was committed, or if the property sought from the potential defendant has a value in excess of that required to “make good the wrong,” the lawyer representing the potential plaintiff/complaining witness must withdraw the client’s threat. Otherwise, the lawyer risks becoming an accomplice to extortion, and violating DR 7-105(A) as well as DR 1-102(A)(3) (illegal conduct involving moral turpitude) and DR 1- 102(A)(4) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation).
Such agreements seem a modern version of “blood money” systems that are still used in some Middle Eastern countries. Historically, a person would be jailed until he paid the family of the victim what they demanded. In this case, the settlement was made to avoid a criminal charge.
The saving grace for the attorney can be the fact that the client is asserting innocence and making no concession of guilt. Thus, the settlement is ostensibly based on the desire to avoid the publicity associated with such claims and not necessarily to avoid legal process.
Curl, who coached Tom Dolan to three medals in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, recently attended the U.S. Olympic trials in Omaha.
Currin, now 43, says that she simply got fed up with remaining silent even though she agreed to the terms when she was 19. It has been 23 years. She says that their lawyer told them that Andrew Sonner, then the Montgomery County State’s Attorney, told him or her that Curl would get only “a slap on the wrist.” That raises a host of other legal questions. One is whether Sooner was informed of a statutory rape case and did not take action or encourage the charge to be filed. Sooner says he has no memory of the conversation. Another question is the questionable advice: a statutory rape charge against a person with supervision of children usually results in serious punishment. Being a coach in charge of young girls would constitute a major aggravating factor.
Finally, there is the question of criminal charges after decades of delay. In Virginia, there is no statute of limitations for sexual assault. Given the statement of the alleged victim, it will be interesting to see if prosecutors move to arrest Curl. That would place both his and the Davies’s lawyers in a precarious spot of being called to a grand jury with a host of privilege and ethical issues.
Dear CUBU Families,Coaches, and Staff,
In response to the article that appeared in the Washington Post today, Rick Curl has decided to take a leave of absence effective immediately. Pete Morgan will assume the role of Head Coach of the Curl Burke Swim Club. In addition, Tom Ugast, Director of Operations at CUBU since 2010 will continue to process all management functions on a day to day basis.
Curl Burke Swim Club takes very seriously the health and well being of your children that swim for our Club. All of our coaches value the time they spend with the swimmers. As a Club we follow USA Swimming’s “Safe Sport” program to help ensure the safety and well being of everyone involved in our sport.
In 2010, all of our head site coaches attended the first seminar put on by Potomac Valley Swimming in conjunction with USA Swimming to educate our coaches in athlete protection.
In 2011, under the new policies that were adopted by USA Swimming, Curl Burke adopted a program that includes a code of conduct for our coaches, training in athlete protection, and mandatory background checks of all coaches. We strive to create an atmosphere that is safe and nurturing to all of our swimmers.
This article is painful for our Club. If you have any questions or concerns going forward, please contact Tom Ugast.
Source: Washington Post