Friday, January 25, 2013

Orthodox school's bid to settle abuse case rejected 

A Brooklyn judge has rejected an Orthodox Jewish day school's attempt to settle a civil lawsuit brought by a boy who said he had been sexually abused by one of the school's teachers.

Supreme Court Justice Jack Battaglia denied Yeshiva & Mesivta Torah Temimah Inc's motion to enforce a confidential settlement because the parents of the alleged abuse victim changed their minds and rejected the deal after they signed it in 2011.

"The court cannot say on the record presented that the refusal of (plaintiff)'s parents to proceed with the settlement in accordance with the Feb. 15, 2011, settlement agreement is unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious," Battaglia wrote in a ruling Wednesday.

The underlying lawsuit was one of several filed by alleged abuse victims and their parents against Yeshiva & Mesivta Torah Temimah, which operates Orthodox Jewish day schools in Brooklyn, the ruling said.

The case was brought in 2006 by a boy who said he was abused by Rabbi Joel Kolko during the 2003-2004 school year. It was not immediately clear whether Kolko still teaches at Yeshiva Torah Temimah.

The boy, who according to the ruling is now 15 years old, is not named in the decision. His parents are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The claims include negligence in hiring, supervising and retaining Kolko and breach of fiduciary duty.

In 2011, the parties reached a confidential settlement agreement, which was signed by the boy's parents, the ruling said. Days later, the parents reversed course and said they no longer agreed to the settlement, which they said had been signed under "duress," the ruling said.

The parents also said they had come under fire from some members of their community. A rabbi at the school told them they would "bankrupt" the yeshiva and destroy it in the way "the Nazis (have) destroyed" the "yeshiva in Europe," the ruling said.

Lawyers for the school disputed that the parents had signed under duress, according to the ruling. They moved for an order approving an infant compromise, which would allow the court to approve a settlement involving a claim brought by a minor.

Battaglia rejected the request.

The settlement "might well be found to be in the infant plaintiff's best interests, but that is not the standard for a settlement contrary to the judgment of the infant plaintiff's parent and counsel," the judge wrote.

The school and a lawyer for the plaintiff did not immediately return requests for comment Thursday.


Kolko, a first-grade teacher who taught at the Yeshiva Torah Temimah in Brooklyn, was indicted by local prosecutors in 2007 for sexually abusing a former student. In 2008, he pleaded guilty to two counts of endangering the welfare of a child and was sentenced to three years' probation.
He was rearrested in 2010 after prosecutors accused him of violating a protective order that barred him from interacting with the boy who had accused him of abuse. Following a jury trial last year, Kolko was acquitted of violating the protective order.

A lawyer who represented Kolko in the criminal case did not immediately return a request for comment and Kolko could not be reached for comment.

It is unclear if the boy in the criminal case is the same as the one in the civil lawsuit before Battaglia. It is unclear whether Kolko still teaches at Yeshiva Torah Temimah.

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes has come under scrutiny in recent years for his office's handling of sex abuse cases involving members of Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish community. In some media reports Hynes has been accused of helping community leaders cover up high-profile accusations. Defending his office's actions, Hynes has said secrecy may be necessary in some cases to help shield victims from harassment and intimidation.

In 2009, Hynes created a program called Kol Tzedek -- Hebrew for "voice of justice" -- to help victims of sexual abuse in Brooklyn's insular Orthodox Jewish communities come forward. The program has led to 112 arrests and there are about 50 cases pending, according to Hynes's office.

On Tuesday, a Brooklyn judge sentenced an Orthodox counselor, Nechemya Weberman, to 103 years in prison for abusing a young female patient.
The case is John Doe No. 4. v. Yeshiva & Mesivta Torah Temimah Inc, New York State Supreme Court, Kings County, No. 37492/2006.

For the plaintiffs: Frank Floriani and Glenn Nick of Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo.

For the defendant: Avraham Moskowitz and M. Todd Parker of Moskowitz & Book.


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