Family of former Fresno State athletic director Jim Bartko seeking unique lawsuit

KSEE24 News

FRESNO Calif. (KSEE) – The family of a former Fresno state athletic director has filed one of the first cases of its kind in California. 

Senate bill 447 allows families of deceased abuse survivors to file lawsuits even after the victim has died, the law went into effect on Jan. 1, and a few days later Jan. 3, the family of Jim Bartko filed one of the first lawsuits under this new law Bartko died in 2020, just days after he went public with allegations of abuse against an Oakland catholic priest named Stephen Kiesle.  

Rick Simons represented Bartko when he was alive and saw the lifelong struggles Bartko faced as a result of the alleged sexual abuse.

Typically, what would happen in the past under California law was, victims would file a non-economic status case, meaning a victim would seek non-economic damages, like emotional distress or psychological injury, depression anxiety, but often the victims’ cases would get dragged out and prolonged by the plaintiffs

“This served as an incentive for defendants whether that be insurance companies providing coverage or entities themselves, churches, schools, to delay cases for as long as they could,” Simmons said.

This law doesn’t just apply to sexual abuse survivors. It can be for a variety of cases where victims suffer prolonged damages after the trauma has taken place, and it sends a message to victims that there is hope and a message to the accused that there needs to be accountability.

Bartko was hired as the Bulldogs Athletic Director back in 2014 but in 2017 he suddenly resigned from the position citing personal reasons for the leave.  

The allegations of abuse were not a topic Bartko shied away from he even wrote a book about it called the boy in the mirror  

Bartko blamed said it was Kiesle who introduced him to alcohol at the age of seven.

Bartko died of cirrhosis of the liver in 2020, Simons said that Bartko suffered from alcohol abuse, and used it as a means to cope for many years. According to Simons, Bartko stopped drinking in 2016 but his liver disease was already too advanced resulting in his death.

“He died of cirrhosis of the liver he spent a lifetime as so many children who are traumatized do, self medicating  and alcohol-abusing,” Kiesle said, “Mr. Bartko certainly died as a direct result of the sexual assaults he suffered as a seven, eight-year-old.” 

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