For young girls who have faced abuse at the hands of a trusted authority figure, Jessica Agnelly Krawczyk is a last line of defense, or at least a patient listener.
Agnelly is a partner at the Wendt Law Firm in Kansas City, where her practice encompasses a wide range of personal injury actions. But her cases on behalf of sexual assault victims, while representing a small percentage of her practice, are her hardest-fought and most meaningful work.
“I really have developed a passion for these cases,” she said. “They’re emotionally difficult because I have a young daughter. I work with these young girls, and I think about how brave they are to even come forward in the first place to disclose what happened to them.”
For obvious reasons, details of many of Agnelly’s cases remain undisclosed, although a $2 million settlement she achieved against a Cass County high school came to light earlier this year as the result of a public-records request.
Sadly, many cases she reviews never become lawsuits at all. Agnelly said that, while she gets calls on such cases weekly, she handles only a few each year. Often the statute of limitations has run, or the person or entity responsible for the abuse has immunity. She counsels clients that there might not be a cause of action, that “you can’t bring a lawsuit for every horrible thing that happens.”
And of course, the victims themselves might decide that the strain of litigation isn’t worth it, particularly when the publicity of litigation inevitably leads some people to blame the victim.
“I’m very honest with my clients up front, with the parents and to the extent it’s appropriate with the young girl, letting them know that at any time they don’t want to do this anymore, I’ll respect their wishes,” she said.
Agnelly, who earned her law degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2005, is heavily involved in the Association for Women Lawyers of Greater Kansas City, the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys and the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association, whose civil litigation section she led in 2018. Earlier this month, Gov. Mike Parson selected her from among three finalists to fill an associate circuit judgeship in Jackson County.
Agnelly also is the mother of a 6-year-old girl, which both informs her practice and makes it all the more important. Agnelly said victims often take years to be able to tell their stories, so she makes sure to go at their pace to avoid making them feel revictimized.
“I talk to them like I talk to my daughter, like I talk to my friends,” she said. “I’m there to listen to them and I’m there to guide them, but it is a different level of intimacy you build with those clients. Some of these girls are telling me things they’ve never told their parents, that they’ve never told anybody.”
Very often, her clients don’t know what they want out of litigation. Some cases have a monetary component for the victim’s counseling and treatment. But often, they just don’t want it to happen again. Agnelly, of course, can’t put anyone in jail, but she can use the civil court system to bring some measure of justice.
“Overall, the number one thing clients tell me is, ‘I don’t want this to happen to another child,’” she said.