More than 800 parents and children may have been affected by a Reno daycare worker convicted of sexually assaulting four girls and five boys, said a lawyer for families of the victims.
A Washoe County district judge agreed Wednesday to allow the parents of as many as 490 children who attended the daycare while Gary Hanneman worked there to join a class to streamline their legal claims against an insurance company.
Judge James W. Hardesty said he wanted to grant the families class status to help them reach a settlement with the Children City Learning Center's insurance company and ensure that any money goes to the families, not the lawyers.
Hanneman was sentenced March 8, 2002, to 14 consecutive life prison terms after pleading guilty to molesting the children at the center from May 1999 to February 2001.
Sherry Bowers, a Reno lawyer representing the families of children who attended the center during that period, told the judge Wednesday that about 840 parents and children may have been affected by Hanneman's conduct.
Attempts to reach these families have been relatively successful, she said, and some have said they are not interested in being involved in the lawsuit. About 50 families still must be located, she said.
The day-care center had insurance coverage through Penn-America Group Inc., Hardesty said, but whether their policy covered the sexual abuse that occurred there is in dispute.
What's worse, he said, is that the insurance coverage is limited, and any money spent on litigating the claims will come from the pool of money that might be available for the families impacted by Hanneman's abuse.
So, to ensure that the families have access to the most money, Hardesty said he has limited the lawyers' activities and will supervise the case closely.
Certifying the families as a class also will help control the legal costs and preserve the available funds, he said.
The class includes all parents, guardians and children who were enrolled at the center from May 1, 1999, to Feb. 23, 2001, and "suffered any damage arising directly or indirectly from the misconduct of Gary Hanneman."
Bowers estimated the claimants could include 350 parents and 490 children.
Joye Blanscett, a lawyer representing Penn, said the company had challenged the class certification in part because of concerns about families who might chose to opt out of the class and sue on their own.
Hardesty scheduled another hearing to fine-tune the details on the case for Sept. 30. At that time, he said they would set the first round of settlement discussions.
In a related matter, the Reno Gazette-Journal also reported that a federal appeal filed by Hanneman was dismissed so the convicted child molester could complete his appeals in state court. Hanneman was convicted in 2001 of sexually assaulting four girls and five boys while working at the center near downtown Reno.
In response to his federal appeal, a judge told him the federal court does not have jurisdiction until he has exhausted all of his state appeals.
Hanneman, who does not have a lawyer, then wrote a motion to dismiss his federal appeal. He told the court he would need to try to get the case dismissed at the state level by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus.
U.S. District Judge Howard McKibben granted Hanneman's motion Aug. 28. As of Wednesday, Hanneman had not filed a new appeal in state court.