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Ex-Fargo dentist accused in sex abuse lawsuit

FARGO -- A longtime Fargo dentist and former School Board member is accused of molesting a teenage patient in a lawsuit argued in front of the North Dakota Supreme Court earlier this week.

The alleged sexual abuse by Trueman Tryhus Jr., a 78-year-old who now lives in Arizona, occurred more than 40 years ago in a dentist's chair in his office, according to Jeffrey Dunford, the former patient who filed the suit.

Dunford's lawsuit seeks compensation for the post-traumatic stress disorder and other emotional injury he says he suffered due to the assault he remembers happening in the late 1960s, according to his complaint.

"I lost decades of my life because of this," Dunford said on Thursday.

An attorney for Tryhus, Kim Brust of Fargo, said the dentist "categorically denies" Dunford's claims, adding that he thinks the lawsuit is an attempt to embarrass Tryhus.

Affidavits included in the lawsuit from another former patient and a former receptionist for Tryhus, Lynda Borchert, also allege that Tryhus abused young male patients.

Brust said Tryhus hasn't seen those accounts, which he said weren't relevant to Dunford's lawsuit.

In addition to dentistry, Tryhus was a prominent community leader in the 1970s and 1980s. He served two three-year terms on the Fargo School Board and was one of the developers in the renovation of the former deLendrecie's department store downtown into the Block 6 complex.

Judge Frank Racek dismissed the lawsuit in Cass

County District Court on April 24 on grounds that it wasn't filed soon enough.

Dunford, a 54-year-old property manager, appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on Monday. Brust said he expects a decision in 30 to 60 days. Dunford, who represented himself, said he expects a decision within a couple of weeks.

At issue in the appeal was the two-year statute of limitations for filing a sex abuse lawsuit. Typically, that clock starts as soon as the incident occurs. Because the alleged assaults date back generations ago, that period has clearly passed.

There are exceptions that allow the start of the two-year period to be delayed. Dunford's case rested on the "discovery" exception, which can delay the clock from starting until a plaintiff is aware of facts giving a reasonable person reason to think a claim exists.

Dunford said that while he's always had a memory of the abuse, the statute of limitations should begin in 2006 when he saw a therapist who diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder. He initially filed the lawsuit on Feb. 11, 2008.

Tryhus's attorney argued that Dunford knew a claim may have existed earlier, because he sent Tryhus a letter in the early 1990s about the purported abuse and the damage it caused for him.

"I think the law is clear," Brust said.

Dunford said North Dakota has one of the shortest statute of limitations for child sex abuse lawsuits. To meet the statute of limitations, he would have needed to file his lawsuit by his 19th birthday, he said.

"The law needs to be changed," he said, adding that states like California and Delaware have passed reforms that allow older abuse claims to be filed.