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Maldonado's 'Cole's Law' signed by Gov 

The law has a simple name, the name of a child allegedly molested in San Luis Obispo County between five and six years ago.

But it was a case that never went to trial, authorities say, because the then-4-year-old child would have suffered "severe" emotional trauma if he had faced his alleged attacker in court.

This week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Cole's Law, which local and state prosecutors say will allow child victims of sexual predators to stay out of a courtroom but still testify via one-way, closed-circuit television.

The law began its path to the governor's desk in 2004 when its author, Senator Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, was an assemblyman.

Working with Cole's grandmother and SLO County Deputy District Attorney Lee Cunningham, who brought the case to the assemblyman's attention, Maldonado found that existing laws that allow closed-circuit testimony didn't address a case like Cole's.

The current law only allows for closed-circuit testimony when an alleged attacker uses a weapon or threatens the child or the child's family, Cunningham said. " It's limited to circumstances that have never come up in [county] child molestation cases."

Despite the fact that the federal government and about 40 other states have laws similar to Cole's Law in place, the original bill never made it out of the Public Safety Committee. Some criticism came from the California Public Defenders Association, which argued the bill was unconstitutional since it allowed testimony outside the presence of a defendant.

Maldonado reintroduced the bill when he was elected to the Senate last year, where it gained support from the San Luis Obispo Child Development Center and the state's Attorney General's office, among other law enforcement and government groups.

"We're just ecstatic. This is a big victory for children," Maldonado said on the day the bill was signed into law.

Deputy District Attorney Cunningham couldn't say if there were any pending cases here in San Luis Obispo County that would benefit from the new law, but he did say prosecutors ideally hoped they'd rarely find cases where children are that traumatized.

"But it will happen," he said. "And if it can help one child, then it's worth it."

-Abraham Hyatt

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