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WSJ: Horace Mann Settles Sex-Abuse Lawsuit

posted by HM Action at 2015-04-03 12:07:00

A closely watched sexual-abuse lawsuit filed in New Jersey against Horace Mann, the elite private school in the Bronx, has been settled.

Rosemarie Arnold, an attorney representing the anonymous plaintiff, confirmed the settlement Thursday, but she declined to provide additional details.

A spokesman for Horace Mann declined to comment.

Ms. Arnold, who filed the suit in 2013, previously said she was seeking a settlement of $10 million to $15 million and that her client “would never accept a pittance to keep quiet.”

Nearly three dozen alumni of Horace Mann have come forward over the past few years, claiming they were abused by teachers and administrators at the school from the 1960s through the 1990s. But it wasn’t possible for them to advance their claims under New York’s statute of limitations laws, which are among the strictest in the U.S.

But New Jersey law left an opening for an anonymous plaintiff who claimed in the lawsuit that Johannes Somary, a former music teacher at the school, sexually abused him hundreds of times in the state in the mid-1970s.

Mr. Somary died in 2011.

In March 2014 a judge in Bergen County Superior Court rejected the school’s try to get the case thrown out on jurisdictional grounds. The judge noted 10% of Horace Mann students came from New Jersey and the school earned revenue from events, competitions and extracurricular programs held in the state.

At the time, Horace Mann officials expressed confidence in their case, saying that “the school has very strong defenses and remains highly confident that it will prevail in this action.”

If the case had continued, it would have forced the school to defend itself against abuse allegations in court for the first time. As a result, some victims’ advocates saw the settlement as a lost opportunity.

“I was really just hoping that it would put into public the evidence, the facts that we wanted to know—who knew what when,” said Robert Boynton, a spokesman for the Horace Mann Action Coalition, an alumni group that has pressed the school to do an independent investigation into the sexual-abuse scandal.

Mr. Boynton said its group was almost done with its own investigation and planned to release its report in May.

Joseph Cumming, one of the former students who said he was abused, said that while he had hoped the trial would bring out new evidence, he understood the trauma a trial can pose for abuse victims. “My happiness for him in being able to settle outweighs my personal desire to see more facts come to light.”

Mr. Cumming had been asked to give a deposition in the trial, but was told a month ago that the discovery period had been stayed indefinitely.

The school publicly apologized for the abuse in a letter from board Chairman Steven Friedman in 2013. The letter said the school had reached settlements with nearly all of the people claiming abuse, even though they had no legal claim.

Mr. Friedman announced last month, after informing the board in January, that he was leaving the board at the end of the school year. The school’s executive committee called it a “long-planned” transition.

Multiple alumni have claimed that they were abused during school trips that took them out of New York. Ms. Arnold declined to comment on whether more cases might be brought in other jurisdictions.

Write to Sophia Hollander at

posted at: 2015-04-03 12:07:00, last updated: 2015-04-03 12:08:46

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