Three women who've accused former Daily News columnist Bill Conlin of molesting them as children in the 1970s have retained a Center City law firm.

Attorneys Slade H. McLaughlin and Paul Lauricella said today that Kelley Blanchet, Karen Healey, and a third woman who asked to remain unidentified have retained their firm, McLaughlin & Lauricella.

In an Inquirer article published online yesterday, Blanchet, Healey, Healey's brother, Kevin, and the unidentified woman accused the Hall of Fame baseball writer, who started at the Daily News in 1965, of sexually abusing them as children in South Jersey. Blanchet is Conlin's niece.

McLaughlin said he met with the women last night and they had no plans to file a civil suit, though under current law, it would be difficult to do so.

"These very brave women have come forward knowing that the statute of limitations effectively bars their claims against Mr. Conlin," McLaughlin said in a news release published on the firm's website. "They have made their stories public solely to set the record to straight, to encourage others to step forward and to ensure that others will not be victimized in the future.

"The only gain they hope to realize is that of increased public awareness and the protection of others."

The Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office investigated the claims and took statements from the alleged victims but ultimately could not charge Conlin because the assaults allegedly occurred before the 1996 statute of limitations. Lauricella, in a statement, said the assaults occurred at a time when "families, law enforcement and society as a whole responded quite differently to child abuse."

"But more recently we have learned that by dealing with such grotesque events privately and quietly, well-meaning parents can unintentionally leave their children wallowing in shame, and inadvertently enable sex offenders to victimize others. Our clients simply hope to break that cycle," Lauricella said.

Conlin, 77, retired from the Daily News yesterday and did not return phone calls for comment today from his home in Florida. McLaughlin and Lauricella, in the news release, asked the media to respect the families' privacy.

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