A case that changed a career

When a prospective client phoned Robert Allard in the summer of 2009, work was far from the attorney's mind. He was in Syracuse, New York, 2,800 miles from his San Jose law office and in the thick of a summer visit to his in-laws’ home. Allard's four young children were scampering around with their cousins and the house was filled with chatter and laughter.

The voice on the other end of the line, however, was somber. Allard listened closely as the caller described how a San Jose swim coach had molested his teenage daughter. He was looking for an attorney to pursue a civil suit.

“The case immediately captured my attention,” says Allard, a founding partner at Corsiglia McMahon & Allard in San Jose. “The thought of someone having their first sexual experience with a coach they trusted ... sickened me.”

That call redirected the course of Allard's legal career. He had built a successful personal injury practice and secured multimillion-dollar settlements and arbitration awards, but he'd never handled a sexual abuse case.

Since then, Allard, 43, has shot to prominence as a litigator in child sexual abuse cases and an advocate for institutional accountability. He's influenced California lawmakers to introduce legislation which would prevent organizations from covering up assaults and protecting abusers. Allard believes confidential settlements in child sex abuse cases should be banned. Also, the statute of limitations for filing claims in California should be extended from age 26 to age 35. (In many states, the statute of limitations is as low as age 20.) Private institutions which work with children would be required by law to appoint a dedicated employee to oversee and investigate any allegations of sex abuse. They would also be required to have clear procedures for filing abuse complaints. Any adult working with kids and employed by a group that uses publicly owned facilities would be required to undergo a background check.

When Allard approached State Assemblyman Jim Beall for backing, the San Jose-area legislator agreed. According to Beall, the measure has strong support.

“Everyone wants kids to be safe,” he says. “It should be a nonpartisan bill.”

Beall says he was impressed by Allard's knowledge of shortcomings in existing laws. “He knew what he was talking about,” says Beall, who credits Allard with being “a great organizer and synthesizer.” The legislator hopes the bill will become law by late summer. Allard's advocacy efforts earned him a 2012 CLAY Award for public interest from California Lawyer magazine.

“I don't want to get metaphysical and say it was a calling, but I almost felt as if it was,” says Allard.

Battling against institutional negligence

Allard's mission sprang from his litigation against USA Swimming, the national governing body for competitive swimmers and U.S. Olympic team hopefuls.

He sued USA Swimming in 2010, accusing the Colorado Springs-based organization of protecting pedophiles by covering up assaults and neglecting to institute a system to investigate complaints. Since filing that suit, Allard says he's been contacted by at least 100 swimmers across the country who say they were abused as young, competitive athletes. He has three pending cases, two of them in Indiana courts.

“What started out as a little case against a little club mushroomed into a vast, wide-ranging case,” he says, “involving ... dozens and dozens of other coaches across the country who are licensed by USA Swimming who've been [allegedly] molesting mostly little girls, and to some degree little boys, for decades.”

Thanks pressure from Allard, USA Swimming revamped its child-protection policies in 2010. Enhanced background screenings of coaches now reveal arrests, criminal investigations, and multiple complaints, even if they never resulted in convictions. Reporting suspected abuse has become mandatory.

“I don't want to get metaphysical and say it was a calling, but I almost felt as if it was,” says Allard.

USA Swimming did not respond to calls for comment. Executive director Chuck Wielgus told USA Today in 2010 that his organization began background screenings of coaches in 2006. According to Wielgus, the group's code of conduct prohibits physical or sexual abuse.

The organization's tougher new screening policies would have snared Andrew King. King is a former USA Swimming coach now serving a 40-year sentence after pleading guilty to molesting four Bay Area swimmers. One of them was the daughter of the man who contacted Allard. The swimmers' parents had filed at least two complaints with USA Swimming against King, but the organization never confronted or investigated him.

Allard feels the time is right for California's legislators to toughen oversight and screening of youth coaches. Public awareness of the issue is higher than ever before. A prominent sex-abuse scandal rocked Penn State in 2015. That same year, two former ball boys at Syracuse University claimed they were abused by an assistant basketball coach. With public outcry at its height, Allard believes, meaningful change is right around the corner.

Continuing the legacy of advocacy

The son and grandson of attorneys, Bernard Robert Allard grew up in Saratoga. His grandfather, Bernard Emil Allard, was a plaintiff's lawyer in Oakland. His father, Bernard James Allard, represented corporations as a litigator in Santa Clara County. The younger Allard graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1991 and received his law degree from the University of San Francisco's School of Law in 1994. Since then, he's made protecting children from sexual abuse his professional mission.

“There's no question this is a family-inherited trait that I have, that I want to help people and advocate for people and advance the rights of others,” he says.

He joined his father's practice and worked with him for a decade. When his father retired, Allard and a longtime colleague of his father's, Tim McMahon, joined up with attorney Brad Corsiglia in 2007. They practice law in downtown San Jose. Allard's tidy, no-nonsense office is brightened by photos of his wife, Niccole, and their four grinning children.

Allard has proven himself an adept personal injury attorney. He was named Trial Lawyer of the Year by the Santa Clara County Trial Lawyers Association in 2007 and 2009. The 2007 award was due in large part to the $3.15 million settlement Allard secured for his clients, who were injured when their motorcycle collided with a car in Ventura. The plaintiffs were initially offered a $328,000 settlement.

In 2009, he obtained more than $2 million in arbitration for a public school employee injured in a head-on crash on a field trip. In another case, he secured $1.25 million for a motorist whose car was rear-ended.

Former San Jose attorney Christopher Rudy, now a judge, has opposed Allard in several cases and respects his dedication to clients. The pair had a face-off in a Santa Clara County courtroom last year after they failed to settle a personal injury case. “I disagreed on the value of the case but never disagreed on how he represented his client,” says Rudy, a former partner at Stenberg, Sunseri, Roe, Pickard & Rudy.

The jury awarded Allard's client less in compensatory damages than Rudy's pretrial offer. But Allard was able to recover his costs and open the door to possible additional litigation that could yield punitive damages—a creative approach to a disappointing verdict. “It was a nice experience to try a case against him, but I'd prefer not to do it again,” Rudy quips.

Allard says his work is inspired by his Catholic religion. “We as lawyers are uniquely positioned to do something, and we shouldn't be motivated only by monetary compensation,” he says. “If we're called to a cause, we should see it through so that everyone is made safer.”

Contact Us

Corsiglia McMahon & Allard, L.L.P.
96. North Third Street, Suite 620
San Jose, CA 95112
Phone: 408-289-1417

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