Victims Program Needs Major Overhaul

JUNE 27, 2011

By RICHARD TRAINOR

The California State Victims of Crime Program (VCP) is a neat little boutique agency designed to assist crime victims. It’s officially known as the Victims Compensation and Government Claims Board, or colloquially as the CalVCP.

Formed in 1965, CalVCP is the oldest such crime victims program in the nation. It serves more than 50,000 crime victims per year and has an annual budget of more than $100 million. The program has a state-federal funding mix, getting 55 cents in federal money out of every dollar it spends.

So far, CalVCP has provided over $2 billion in compensation to crime victims. Its new Executive Director, Julie Nauman, crowed about it when the $2 billion milestone was reached:

This is a significant moment for CalVCP and calls attention to the thousands of victims whose lives were permanently altered by violence and had nowhere else to turn. Besides paying for the expenditures associated with crime, which often leaves families financially devastated, our program plays an important role in the healing process, allowing many victims to pick up the pieces and move on with their lives in some shape or form. [Note: the CalVCP link for this quote recently was taken down by CalVCP. It formerly was here.]

In some shape or form, though, sometimes not good ones.

The CalVCP program has routinely been the subject of remedial legislation, and has been investigated by the Little Hoover Commission and by the State Auditor General’s office in 2005. The program has sometimes taken three years to discharge an approved claim.

When a victim of a crime is treated for his or her injuries by a doctor, a hospital or an emergency technician, the victim is supposed to be provided with a handout on the Victims of Crime program and told how to apply for it. The application must be completed within a year and the total amount that a victim can be compensated is $55,000.

The program is supposed to provide free in-house advocates to aid the victim so he or she can avoid hiring an attorney to press their case. If a claim is approved, the victim is notified within 90 days and can then collect their checks.

But often, crime victims are left to twist in the wind on their own and provide their own legal, medical and rehabilitation services, at their own cost.

Administrative costs add up

Michael Siegel, a Loomis-based attorney, is often hired by crime victims when the approval of their claims is in danger. About CalVCP, Siegel said, “They’re worse than ever. They’ve cut back on service payment amounts for doctors and counselors, for lawyers and for the victims themselves.”

Siegel puts the CalVCP’s administrative costs figure at 40 percent. CalVCP media spokesman Jon M. Myers disputed that. Myers said, “That’s an exaggeration; it’s closer to 20 to 25 percent.”

Siegel disputed Myers’ figures, saying, “They’re passing along some of their overhead to other uses, but it’s still money that should go to the victims.”

One client of Siegel’s is a woman named Krista Clem-O’Sullivan. Her story is tragic. Her husband, John “Scully” O’Sullivan, was murdered in August 2009 on their ranch in El Dorado County. Reported the Oct. 11, 2010 Irish Central:

Ken Zimmerman is on trial in Amador Superior Court in northern California accused of the murder of Irish man John O’Sullivan.

In August of last year, fourteen months ago, John O’Sullivan was found dead in his tractor with shotgun wounds in his back. His neighbour Ken Zimmerman, with whom he had recently had an argument, was arrested and charged with homicide.

According to evidence heard at the trial, O’Sullivan had rammed through Zimmerman’s locked gate and assaulted him before the fatal shooting.

O’Sullivan’s wife, Krista Clem-O’Sullivan, has alleged intimidation of her and her family during the course of the trial.

According to the Oct. 28, 2010 Amador News, a jury “found Kenneth Zimmerman guilty of second-degree murder.”

Krista Clem-O’Sullivan remembered:

We had four young children. My husband was on his tractor when he was shot in the back by the neighbor’s caretaker. This man had been harassing us for years, and he had even assaulted Scully with his truck. No matter what we did, the DA would not press charges on the man.

Eventually, we filed a federal civil rights case, against both the DA and the guy who shot my husband. After the murder, the DA kept our tractor as “evidence.” I asked that they rent one for me. They would not. After my husband was buried, I sought reimbursement for the funeral expenses from Vic Comp. They denied my claim, stating that my husband may have somehow “participated” in the crime. They said that the police report stated that my husband had run over the murderer’s foot with the tractor and slapped him. But you can file an appeal, they said, and we’ll even pay for the attorney.

So I hired Mike Siegel. We went to trial, and it was proven that it was physically impossible for my husband to have done either of those things. So my appeal to CalVCP still hasn’t been heard. I asked why the delay? They’re still relying on the police report, I was told. I said, What about the DA, and the experts, and the jury verdict of second degree murder with enhancements for an intentional act with a gun, and the 40-year (minimum) to life sentence? I am still waiting.

Foreclosed

Krista and her kids have had a hard time. Since Scully’s death, the family has witnessed foreclosures on their homes, the ranch where they all lived together in El Dorado County and the “Lighthouse” in Shelter Cove where Krista and the kids moved after her husband was killed. She is currently staying with Scully’s family in Ireland, living in a trailer.

Siegel says that the program is now further refining their torture:

Recently VOC started requiring personal information from county social workers filing VOC claims for county dependents, or they will return the claim as “incomplete.” They’re asking for birthdates and/or Social Security Numbers of the Child Protective Service workers, saying they need that information to protect the privacy of the child claimant if a CPS worker calls VOC for information on the claim.

In the past 40 years, they haven’t required this. I believe this is just one more way VOC is attempting to stall these applications or make it so onerous that DCFS agencies will stop sending in claims. Of course, this would result in longer waiting lists for the few, underpaid therapists who agree to take Medi-Cal for these kids.”

The maximum amount an attorney can be paid by the Victims of Crime Program is 10 percent of the total victim’s claim (which averages in the $2,000 range), with a ceiling set at $500. That’s now about to fall to $300.

For the past eight years, I’ve followed the VCP’s antics objectively as the state spends considerable money by staffing the program and often ripping off the program itself by snatching their state funding at the end of the fiscal year and kicking it back into the cash-strapped California state General Fund.

I also know this subjectively. After a near-fatal criminal assault on me in 1997, the Victims Compensation Board forced me to spend $40,000 in legal fees, didn’t settle my case until three years after it had been approved and made me suffer another $40,000 in out-of-pocket losses that they refused to reimburse. And this after Executive Director John Gillis, of the Victims of Crime at the U.S. Justice Department, admitted in a letter to me that “the board mishandled your claim.”

Numerous victimized victims

It would be one thing if Siegel and this reporter were the lone critics of the program, woofing at CalVCP because attorneys’ fees were being reduced, or due to this reporter’s unfortunate set of circumstances under a different board at CalVCP. But we are not.

A number of crime victims interviewed by this reporter have cried foul regarding the program. So have former CalVCP staff members this reporter interviewed — in Sacramento, Sonoma and San Francisco counties. And if the program is as great as Bauman claims, then why have there been all the remedial legislation and Little Hoover hearings? As one Little Hoover commissioner involved in those hearings told this reporter, “That program is a scandal; all they seem to do is further victimize the victims.”

That Hoover Commission member’s criticism was echoed by former San Diego Superior Court Judge Larry Stirling at an Assembly Public Safety Committee hearing this reporter attended in the summer of 2003, when three clean-up bills related to the Victims of Crime Program were being heard.

“We had a lot of problems with that program in San Diego County,” said Stirling, also a former Assemblyman who retired from the court in 2003 and is now a counsel with the law firm of Hamilton & McInnis. “It was a crying shame the way some of these crime victims were treated.”

Quintin Mecke, the communications director for Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who heads the Assembly Public Safety Committee, the legislative body in charge of CalVCP, said he intends to have his boss “look into the matter.” Mecke said he was unaware of anything controversial regarding the CalVCP’s ongoing record.

Executive Director Nauman, whose CalVCP salary pays her $116,606 annually, is attempting to right the ship at CalVCP. “We’re aware of the problems from the past,” said Myers, the CalVCP spokesman. “But Ms. Nauman is an aggressive advocate for victims’ rights and benefits and you’ll see more positive changes ahead at CalVCP.”

Perhaps this is so. Maybe the State Auditor’s report and all the remedial legislation and threats of litigation may have moved Nauman and CalVCP toward a program more responsive to the victims themselves. (Richard Fine, the renowned class-action attorney once considered bringing suit against CalVCP until he found himself in a major case involving judicial corruption in Los Angeles.) But it will be prudent to keep a watchful eye upon them.

Attempts to reach Gov. Jerry Brown for comments on the Victims of Crime Program proved fruitless.

A new piece of remedial legislation is now under way, with Siegel leading the charge. “But we haven’t been able to find a sponsor yet,” he said.

At the very least, a new law should seek to protect the victims’ funds from further looting by the Legislature. Both Myers and Siegel said they would support that.

 

8 comments

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  1. j. smith
    j. smith 27 June, 2011, 11:47

    Your article above is long over due. Those staff members that brought this issue to the Legislature were severely punished by Senior Exec Managment (i.e. Julie Nauman).

    Attached is an email sent to staff before:

    July 9, 2009

    To VCGCB Staff:

    We know that you have not received any news lately about the status of Romer Cristobal, Cecilia Tarango, Darlene Guidera and Javier Henry-Camacho so we wanted to send this note to you to keep you updated.

    Many have asked us why senior VCGCB management reacted so aggressively to the whistle-blower complaint filed the VCGB Four.

    In February 2009, the same month the four employees started their whistle-blower complaint, Assemblyman Albert Torrico introduced Assembly Bill 1270 (AB 1270). This bill would require the VCGCB, for purposes of meeting the requirement for timely processing of applications, to adopt written procedures and timeframes for approving or denying applications and specific procedures for use in communicating with entities when verifying the required information.

    This bill may have resulted from the 2008 audit of the VCGCB by the Bureau of State Audits. The audit found severe backlogs in processing claims due to the problems associated with CaRES and the lack of system documentation that would help staff manage issues related to system. The May 27, 2009 hearing held by an Assembly oversight committee also revealed that VCGCB uses many cumbersome ad hoc processes to the system’s performance and other key data.

    Perhaps senior VCGCB management feared that the whistle-blower complaint would add fuel to this bill. We have reports that senior VCGCB management is actively trying to kill the bill but is apparently not having any success as the bill is nearing the later stages of the legislative process. We are also wondering why on earth VCGCB management is so adamantly opposed to a proposal that is designed to provide staff with effective procedures for timely processing applications and claims.

    On a final note, the four employees have been on administrative time off for over two months and have been prevented from working any claims. This is costing taxpayers at least $16,000 per month plus other unknown costs related to the investigation of the four employees.

    During this dire economic climate, it’s unconscionable for VCGCB management to waste taxpayer monies in what clearly is a vendetta.

    Stay tuned as this issue progresses.

    Click here to view the status of AB 1270

    p.s.
    Please continue to send the Assembly Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review any information related to issues affecting CaRES, including reports of system down time and any claims over ninety days old. You may contact the committee after work if you wish and leave a message at (916) 319-3600 or you can send them a fax at (916) 319-3650

    Reply this comment
  2. Linda
    Linda 18 August, 2011, 18:13

    The Victims of Crime and Government Claims Board today virtually eliminated compensation for attorneys to represent victims of crime. The Board took the advice of staff that lied to them in three different areas.

    1) The final report stated that the attorneys that file these cases that operate practices that are NOT like contingency practices, when in fact they
    are exactly like contingency practices.

    2) The false rationale for eliminating attorneys is to address a potential shortfall in victim funds when in fact there is at this time a healthy surplus in the program of some $27M. Of course, the July payments to victims have dropped by at least 50%, making the non-victim payout costs
    up even higher than 40%. The balance in the fund will increase, and no one
    factors in AB898. AB 898 is going into its final committee next week. It will raise penalties and fines to put into the “broke” victim fund. The criticism of this bill comes from the public and from analyses that point out
    putting more money into something that is broken is not a good idea, and that the program needs to increase payouts to victims and decrease payments to the bureaucratic structures. Ms Nauman doesn’t want to acknowledge her work in catching up a backlog of several years in 2009/10, and even 10/11 because she doesn’t seem to want to deal with the dive payments are taking and the resulting administrative cost.

    3) The staff lied in their document reflecting comments at the public hearing by saying that no persons would be laid off and no businesses closed when in fact, we laid off a person today, and stated several times in testimony that our business would close if these regulations were passed.

    I expect lies from a staff led by Rosario Marin, but I am sorely disappointed in a Governor I served and contributed to, and in his appointees.

    Reply this comment
  3. Gayle Farinha
    Gayle Farinha 16 October, 2013, 09:17

    This program has treated me, the victim, in ways I never imagined possible. The Sacramento District Attorneys Office has never acknowledged the emergency award process, they put me through hoop after hoop getting the “scannable copies” of forms, they have discussed my application I.n the same room as my abuser, they have been unprofessional in every way possible. The DA uses this fund as a carrot..holding it out in front of victims to get the testimony they want for the “win”. Cal VCP is the worst organization I have ever seen in government. They ignore the law governing their organization and they make up their own rules. All they have to say is thing “this program takes a very long time”. When I spoke to a supervisor he refused to tell me the name of his liaison, he said his name was Glen. But he refused to give me his last name. Disgusting waste of taxpayer money. Poorly run, of not the worst of all time, government program.

    Reply this comment
  4. cheryl comer
    cheryl comer 28 August, 2015, 16:53

    Are you needing victims stories still? I was a victim in 03..nothing was ever paid despite all my work…Again a victim in a huge media story assault and nothing has been paid. I knew Julie personally a long time ago and vouch for character. I would like to get in touch with her if you have her email. Thanks.

    Reply this comment
  5. Dorothy Johnson
    Dorothy Johnson 20 May, 2017, 09:12

    Here’s another sad story of another abused crime victim

     
     
     
    Hello my name is Dorothy Ann Johnson
    I’m  a 61 year old female     crime victim do to a drive by shooting back in June 29, 1993, However do to the shooting my right leg had to be amputed through the knee, I was in Marcy hospital  in Bakersfield California I had an emotional brake down when I was told my leg had to be amputee  I couldn’t stand what I was hearing there for they wanted to try to save my leg which I were taken to Kaweath Delta Hospital in Visalia CA, I was there about a week then to Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco CA, which my leg was amputated, make a long story short this victim of crime program in Sacramento CA abused us crime victims, What I mean by that is when it comes to paying us we talked to with no respect we always lied to such as I was told I had a check coming of 45 dollars that was last year back in October of 2016 I was told when I found all my forms where I had paid 2,161 dollars I had to prove my meds had to do with the case other words I had to prove my depression  and anxiety are due to my accident when I got all my forms and sent them to them I still didn’t get paid they wrote and told me the doctors I go to couldn’t prove the med he give me is related to my accident once I was told it was too late for me to send in my forms the time dad past, I told my pay was over the limit, I called one day and told another lady who work there what I was told she told me that was not true the limit was 75,000,oo my pay only 2,161 dollars and  51 cents, Now my accident was  twenty five years ago, I was told most places don’t keep patients records that long, My doctor told me Dorothy they know that don’t let them people have you out in that heat giving you the run around like that  you have very high B/P, see Dorothy  what they trying to do is run you down and in the end you not going to get a thing, it was just as he had said, I didn’t get a thing just got sick in that heat and I felt down on the hot cement and hurt the hell out of my right hand because I got so hot;  Also  same lady told me that woman Shannon the person who denied me I was told  she took my files to two doctors so they could deny me also,  However she told me both doctors told Shannon she couldn’t  deny me there for Shannon t laid my files down and never picked them up again, However I was still told they was working on them but they weren’t being touch, Later Shannon told me the meds I  was taking has nothing to do  with  my accident lie after lie after lie now them lies do wear you down to tell the truth all of it does put some how you pick yourself up and somehow you go on because what they want you to do is give up, don’t do that give out but never give up, she sent me a file with meds I never heard of and told me that’s what my doctor sent to her and told her the meds he give me has nothing to do with my accident which was not true so I went out in the heat on my sore stomps with it hurting and bleeding getting forms from my doctors and getting my hospital rocker showing when I was shot and my leg had to be amputated and getting my police stating my I shot and like to had died I got my doctor statement saying what kind of meds I was taking and what they was use for and done everything they ask me to do didn’t matter when I pull my prosthetic off and it was full of bleed I still went out in the heat getting what they told me they needed and at the very end I was told I weren’t getting nothing, Now here’s what other crime victims saying keep reading first let me show you what the other victims are saying I’m not the only one see for yourself check it out I want you to see for yourself well I want the world to see how we crime victims are abused it’s a shame
     

    Reply this comment
  6. Clobbered twice
    Clobbered twice 4 June, 2017, 15:16

    Here it is 2017 and they still suck. Delays, long wait times, ignorant and arrogant phone support, they act like you should grovel. This program has ruined my credit with their poor performance not delivering as promised. Same 541t as everyone else . Having to prove your meds were crime related. DOCTORS ARE LICENSED FOR A REASON. STOP QUESTIONING THEM. Aggravated assault victim here.
    I’d much rather have gotten assaulted again than have to deal with calVCP . YES THEY ARE THAT BAD. Meanwhile the criminal felon is out free and I’m still suffering without money. It’s been 5 months. The DA should be embarrassed of their performance.

    Reply this comment

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