TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—A Tompkins County man has been awarded a multi-million dollar judgment as part of a civil lawsuit over sexual abuse he suffered in the late 1970s at the hands of a relative. The case was filed under the Child Victims Act (CVA), a 2019 law that extended the statute of limitations (and reopened a window for accusations to be filed) for people who were sexually abused as minors to file civil lawsuits against the people or institutions that committed or facilitated the abuse. 

The Ithaca Voice is not identifying the plaintiff, who now lives in Ithaca, in this case by name because it deals with child sexual abuse — he will instead be referred to by the pseudonym “Jason.” After two long years of litigation in Broome County Supreme Court, Jason was awarded a victory of $5 million — $2.5 million for past and future compensatory damages and $2.5 million for punitive damages. The case was filed in Broome County because the abuse took place there, and was one of 10,000 lawsuits filed during the reopened window created by the CVA. 

“While plaintiff is now happily married, gainfully employed, actively engaged in therapy and sober for approximately five years due to his persistence in bettering himself, these achievements do not temper or attenuate the long-standing impacts of the horrific abuse he sustained,” wrote Supreme Court Judge Christopher P. Baker in the judgment document, dated Dec. 1, 2022. “This court has previously described how awarding damages for childhood sexual abuse is, by nature, an imprecise art. No sum of money can undo the trauma that sexual abuse visits upon its survivors.”

Like others who come forward about sexual abuse perpetrated by a family member (or anyone unattached to a larger institution) Jason may only ever actually receive a small portion of that money, as his abuser has already filed for bankruptcy during the course of the CVA case and was not a wealthy man before that. But it still represents a modicum of closure for him, even 40 years removed from the abuse, and something he believes every survivor of child sexual abuse should pursue if they have the means. 

“It’s always been on my mind,” Jason said. “The laws are absurd that I can’t press charges against this guy after what he did to me. When that window opened, I was fortunate enough to have the resources, or I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”

Aubrey Hetznecker of Ithaca-based law firm Schlather, Stumbar, Parks and Salk represented Jason during the judicial inquest into his abuse which resulted in the $5 million verdict. 

Jason’s complaint details the abuse he suffered by his uncle, Michael Miller, during the summer of 1978 when Jason was 5 years old and Miller was approximately 19. It alleges that Miller forced Jason to perform oral sex on him several times while Jason was under Miller’s supervision, including in the bathroom during family gatherings in Colesville, New York. Jason’s complaint states that the abuse took place at least six times during the course of that summer. 

Jason said that at some point soon after summer ended, he told his mother about the abuse. He isn’t quite sure what prompted him telling his mom, just that he innately knew what Miller was doing to him was wrong and improper. His parents did not call the police, a decision Jason deems a function of the times with general ignorance about what to do when presented with sexual abuse by a family member. Instead, they went to confront Miller; Jason said that he isn’t quite sure what happened during the interaction, but that the abuse stopped after that. Miller was not excised from the family and was still present at family gatherings, forcing Jason to come face-to-face with him several times after that. 

Requests for comment sent to Miller’s attorney were not answered. 

While Jason said he was never abused again, he would find out later that the behavior hadn’t actually stopped, Miller’s target had just changed. The situation lay dormant for years until February 1988. Ten years after his initial molestation of Jason, Miller had preyed again, this time on another family member and their friend, who were 11- and 12-years-old at the time. Miller plead guilty to sexual abuse charges but was only sentenced to six months of incarceration. The state’s sex offender registry wasn’t active until January 1996, meaning Miller has never been listed on the registry because his offenses took place before it was in effect.

Around the time he was convicted for abusing the other two children, Miller also sent a handwritten letter to Jason, acknowledging and apologizing for the sexual abuse. 

“I’m am sorry for sexually abusing you. You are probly mad at me and that’s ok I understand,” Miller wrote (grammatical and spelling errors are included here for accuracy). “I wanted to say this was not your fault at all. I no you have been through A.A. [Alcoholics Anonymous] and you have had a rough time dealing with everything. I feel responsible for some of that and I’m sure I am and I am really sorry.”

The arrest and guilty conviction, though it was not in direct relation to Jason’s case, had a retraumatizing impact. The feelings of abandonment and the evaporation of trust bubbled to the surface again, Jason said, especially now that there were more known victims. Jason doesn’t seem to truly blame his family, saying he, his brother and parents were a tight-knit group and that those bonds were damaged by the allegations. But he acknowledged that the actions taken at the time were insufficient, particularly as his behaviors came to reflect the trauma he had suffered. 

“I was really afraid when I was younger,” Jason said. “I isolated from people quite a bit. I didn’t build relationships, I was very scared. There’s fight-or-flight, and my instinct was flight.”

“Jason” on a January day in DeWitt Park.

Those behaviors, which Jason said were a direct result of the abuse, metastasized as he grew older. Around the time of Miller’s conviction, when Jason was 15, Jason began drinking as a way to cope with the unaddressed trauma of his abuse. 

“I really latched on to [alcohol],” he said. “As I got older, I knew that I was using and it just wasn’t good for anything. It really held me up at school, it held me up in relationships. I was not a responsible person. I looked at it like ‘This is not helping me,’ but I was addicted to the stuff and needed it to function.”

Jason’s alcoholism evolved into addictions to other substances as well. He’s been to rehab four times, though he has now been sober from alcohol for approximately 15 years and sober from all other substances of abuse for six. 

Before that, though, his addictions were certainly threatening his life: Jason grappled with an opiate addiction that started in college and eventually got bad enough that it derailed a successful engineering career, along with alcohol throughout that time.  

“There was clearly a tie between those two [his substance use and his sexual abuse], but it was just how I learned to survive in the world […] That’s probably a common struggle for anybody that’s suffered trauma at a young age like that,” he said, acknowledging that at points he felt suicidal as his frustration mounted over futile attempts to defeat his addictions. “It’s possible to overcome this kind of trauma that you experience younger in life. I wish I had done it earlier, but it’s possible.”

There are wounds the settlement can’t fix, which Jason seems keenly aware of. He’s lost a lot of time, arguably decades, to addiction that can be sourced directly from when he was molested. He said that he and Hetznecker also emphasized to the judge that the resulting drug problems from Jason’s abuse had contributed to the deterioration of his first marriage and the draining of Jason’s 401K retirement account as he flailed to fund his drug problem.

Jason may have already obtained some part of the personal reconciliation: he said that several years ago he saw Miller outside of Miller’s house while driving. He pulled over and the two men spoke; according to his telling, Jason told Miller that if he ever committed suicide, he would come to that house and kill Miller first. 

Despite the pain that was incurred during the revisiting of those painful memories, Jason said that it was important for him to follow through with the suit nonetheless. He acknowledges the inevitable conclusion that he will likely only be able to collect a portion of the $5 million sum. Jason is transparent that there is a “pound of flesh” element to his case — Jason has long thought about the fact that Miller was not legally punished for abusing him, which likely led to the opportunity he had to abuse more children, and that others could have been abused which could have been prevented as well. 

“I feel like there’s some closure for me,” Jason said. “I’m 50 years old, I tried to press charges when I was younger and it was very frustrating and painful that I couldn’t do anything within the bounds of the law. Knowing that Mike lived in Binghamton, he didn’t live under a sex registry, he lived a normal life. And I was in prison for like 40 years, you know, with all of the PTSD for 40 years.” 

Now, Jason said that he is making up for the time he lost both to his own unresolved trauma and its accompanying addictions. He doesn’t yet feel the impacts of the years of substance abuse, he said, so the possibilities are endless. A distinct lack of stability throughout his life undermined any previous pursuit of his dreams, Jason said, but with a healthy family, home and job now, those pursuits can be reinvigorated. 

“I feel great,” Jason said. “I’ve lost a lot of time. So I’m trying to do all these things to make up for lost time. I’m trying to sail, I’m trying to play the drums. I’m trying to do a lot of life activities that I wanted to do earlier, and really trying to make the most of the time that I have left.”

Matt Butler is the Editor in Chief of The Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at