Jury returns verdict in lawsuit that alleged sex abuse of a minor at a state facility

Jurors found in favor of the state Friday in a lawsuit brought by a woman who said she was sexually abused as a patient at a state psychiatric hospital for children in Lakewood.

Justine Mary Rowe was involuntarily committed to the Child Study and Treatment Center in 2009 as a teenager.

Rowe filed her lawsuit in Pierce County Superior Court about a year ago, at the age of 25, alleging that a counselor at the facility groomed her for a romantic relationship, pursued a sexual relationship with her and continued the relationship after she was released from the facility.

The counselor was not criminally charged. He left the facility, which is run by the state Department of Social and Health Services, in 2012.

Attorney James Beck, who represented Rowe, asked jurors to award her $7 million.

Beck said in closing arguments Thursday that the alleged abuse only required the patient and counselor to be alone and unsupervised for moments at a time in the secure facility, such as in an unoccupied conference room.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he told the jurors.

The center, Beck said, “was not the tight ship that they tried to portray it as.”

Attorney Kerri Ann Jorgensen, who represented the state, argued that children at the facility were constantly monitored.

Jorgensen also told the jury that Facebook messages between the counselor and Rowe did not become sexual in nature until five years after she left the facility.

“Ms. Rowe, while she’s in the facility, is progressing in treatment,” Jorgensen told the jury.

She also suggested that Rowe’s medical conditions affected her account of what happened and that there’s no one to corroborate her account.

Beck countered that with “the only reason they gave you to not believe Justine Rowe was why she was” at the facility in the first place.

The jury deliberated for about a day before finding in favor of the state.

Alexis Krell covers local, state and federal court cases that affect Pierce County. She started covering courts in 2016. Before that she wrote about crime and breaking news for almost four years as The News Tribune’s night reporter.