Profile of the Month: Vincent T. Nappo
Vincent T. Nappo is a senior associate with Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC. Vincent fights hard for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to obtain justice against abusers and the entities who facilitate such atrocities. The effects of childhood sexual abuse are devastating and long-lasting on the victims and their families. Most survivors live for many years in shame, afraid to confront the trauma they experienced. For too long, powerful entities like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America marginalized and ignored victims, leading to a culture of secrecy. Vincent devotes the bulk of his practice towards empowering and providing a voice to these men, women, and children, and, for years, has successfully litigated claims against individual perpetrators, the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America, school districts, daycare centers, the Department of Social and Health Services, and the State of Washington, among others. In recent years, Vincent has expanded his practice to represent survivors of human sex trafficking, including children sold for sex on the Backpage.com website. In addition to his work on behalf of abuse survivors, Vincent’s practice includes complex injury cases involving civil rights violations, government liability, and medical malpractice. Outside of the office Vincent is involved in a number of community activities. He served on the Board of Trustees for the KCBA Young Lawyers Division, and currently serves as Secretary/Treasurer of the WSBA Litigation Section Committee. Additionally, he volunteered for the King County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) on behalf of abused and neglected children, and worked with the Northwest Immigrants’ Rights Project to bring U-Visa petitions on behalf of undocumented victims of domestic violence. Vincent continues to remain active in community and lobbying efforts to protect children through sensible public policy and law initiatives at the federal and state level.
1. How often do you have cases that involve mediation?
Handling a large number of child sexual abuse cases, we find ourselves in mediation almost every month. In many of our clergy abuse cases, for example, we’ve worked with the same defense firm for many years and have developed a mediation protocol to try to resolve claims before extensive, full blown discovery. We find this approach can be mutually beneficial, although ordinarily I would agree mediation is more productive after full discovery has completed
2. What qualities do you look for in a mediator?
We look for a mediator who is invested in the difficult issues at play and will help the plaintiff feel justified and validated. No amount of money can take away the abuse trauma these individuals experienced, so it is important that the mediation process provide a measure of validation and accountability. We also prefer a mediator who has experience in the courtroom trying jury cases, so he or she can use personal experience to talk about strengths and weaknesses of the case.
3. How strongly do you push to have a mediator you propose be accepted by the other side?
With decades of litigation practice, we often work with the same defense firms on our cases, so we have a long history of selecting and working with mediators. During the selection process, we might throw out a couple of names, but we rarely have trouble reaching agreement with the defense. We have a handful of mediators we like to use, but most of these individuals have strong reputations on both sides.
4. How important is pre-session communication with the parties?
I like to share my brief with the other side, but I rarely get to see the defense’s brief. It’s not a huge concern since, as the Plaintiff, we have the burden of proof. If I think the case has a strong chance of going to trial, then I don’t share my brief, or if I do, I won’t detail every piece evidence.
5. How important is it for the mediator to follow up if the mediation doesn’t result in a settlement?
Follow-up is very helpful and common in our practice. I have had mediators work with the parties six or seven weeks to get to a settlement. We’ve had cases settle at trial, but the mediator was not involved.
6. What ADR topics would you like to see discussed at an ADR-related CLE?
I would be interested to know the different negotiating strategies that mediator sees day in and day out. What is the most effective technique, for the mediator and the parties? What are the pros and cons of each?
7. Tell me more about your practice…
The bulk of my practice involves representing survivors of child sexual abuse and sex trafficking. My clients range from age five to age sixty. In Washington State, a special statute of limitations allows adult survivors of sexual abuse to bring claims much later in life and long after the abuse occurred. My clients are often twenty years or more removed from when the abuse took place. We bring cases against perpetrators, institutions, youth organizations, schools, daycares, the foster care system, the State of Washington, etc. I also work on cases involving wrongful death, medical malpractice, consumer protection, motor vehicles and premises liability.
8. Are there any issues or trending topics that you would like to discuss?
There is a proposed amendment to the federal law, the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which was enacted in 1996 to protect websites from being sued for harm caused by user generated content, such as the third-party content you see on Facebook, Amazon, Ebay, etc. As the internet has grown, the law has served a valuable purpose, but it has also been used by bad actors, like Backpage.com, who designed and operated their website to profit from online commercial sex, including child sex trafficking. Congress is looking at two bills that would carve out an exception for child sex trafficking, one in the Senate by Senator Rob Portman, and the other in the house by Congresswoman Ann Wagner. The bills have strong bi-partisan support. There is enormous lobbying from the technology giants against any changes to the CDA, but even the tech industry has stated recently that it will support a limited exception to the CDA to combat child sex trafficking. Every other business is subject to an ordinary standard of care. Similar types of standards ought to apply to internet companies when it comes to the issue of child sex trafficking.