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RIVERDALE PRESS: Sex Abuse Suit Gets On NJ Docket

Sex abuse suit gets on docket in NJ

By Shant Shahrigian

Correction appended.

Advocates seeking redress for decades of sexual abuse at Horace Mann School got a major boost last week, when a New Jersey judge ruled that an alleged victim’s case against the school can proceed.

Bergen County Superior Court Judge Lisa Perez Friscia rejected Horace Mann attorneys’ contention that her court did not have jurisdiction over alleged abuse by deceased Horace Mann music teacher and former Riverdale resident Johannes Somary.

The unnamed plaintiff claims that out of 450 instance of abuse he suffered at Mr. Somary’s hands, at least two took place while Horace Mann’s glee club travelled to the Dwight-Englewood School in New Jersey.

The plaintiff further claims that Horace Mann officials had knowledge of the abuse and could have prevented it, although Ms. Friscia last week dismissed current board members as defendants in the case.

Still, the plaintiff’s attorney said the school’s current Head of School Thomas Kelly, Board of Trustees Chair Steven Friedman and other officials will provide depositions in a process known as discovery.

“The main issue in our case is the fact that Horace Mann knew that Somary was a sexual predator before my client even went to the school,” the plaintiff’s lawyer Rosemarie Arnold said, “and rather than deal with it, not only did they sweep it under the rug, they tried to cover it up.”

Ms. Arnold added, if the court rules in her client’s favor the case will determine the extent of damages from both the abuse itself — which allegedly started when the defendant was in Horace Mann’s middle school and continued until he graduated from high school during the early 1970s — and the alleged cover-up.

The June 2012 New York Times article that first brought decades of sexual abuse at Horace Mann to light described Mr. Somary as one of a group of educators who allegedly exploited and abused dozens of students over more than two decades. The article said Mr. Somary “groomed” teenage boys including the plaintiff in the New Jersey case into sexual partners.

The plaintiff filed suit in New Jersey because New York’s statute of limitations made it too late for charges to be brought here. The school is believed to have settled with an unknown number of abuse survivors in private agreements.

Following Ms. Friscia’s ruling that the case can proceed, Horace Mann alumni who want the school to fully own up to its past applauded the plaintiff and his attorney both in online forums and in messages to Ms. Arnold.

Peter Brooks, an organizer for the Horace Mann Action Coalition (HMAC), a group of graduates and others seeking reconciliation, said the New Jersey case could shed light on other parts of the school’s legacy of abuse.

“It would seem to me they’re moving toward some discovery that would ask who knew what when,” Mr. Brooks said. “I think that is the heart of what would be helpful and healing to the survivors and the general community, for sure.”

Ms. Arnold said she believes alumni other than her client have information that could help inform her questioning of Mr. Kelly and other officials.

While Horace Mann might end up paying a fortune to the plaintiff, Mr. Brooks echoed a widespread view among concerned graduates, saying what he really wants is full acknowledgement of the abuse and an honest apology.

‘Not about blame’

“It’s not for me about blame. It’s not about individual people,” he said. “It’s about some demonstration that the school is aware of what allowed this to go on. What are the conditions that allowed this to flourish?”

Still, a public relations firm hired by Horace Mann to discuss the abuse maintained the stance the school has taken since revelations emerged.

“Although Horace Mann does not believe that the court was correct in determining that the school was subject to specific personal jurisdiction for acts that allegedly took place in New Jersey over 40 years ago, the school has very strong defenses and remains highly confident that it will prevail in this action,” Jon Elsen of Kekst and Company said in an e-mail.

Judge Friscia’s decision followed an HMAC announcement that the group is readying a report based on an investigation of the abuse the coalition independently commissioned. 

Dealing with abuse

Mr. Brooks said the group is using information gleaned by retired judge and sexual abuse prosecutor Leslie Crock-Snyder to write what he described as a “Harvard Business Review-style” report on how schools can deal with sexual abuse.

Mr. Brooks added that the report, expected in the coming months, will provide ways for schools to grade how prepared they are to deal with abuse and list best practices for keeping students safe from predators.

I certainly hope we don’t have to get [another] 40 years of as concentrated abuse as you now are aware of to get people the backdrop they would need to understand every type of abuse [and] every kind of obstacle on how authorities can get involved or not,” Mr. Brooks said. “It’s an exceedingly complicated thing.”

A previous version of this story misidentified Horace Mann Board of Trustees Chair Steven Friedman as Thomas Friedman.,53913?page=1&




NY- Men to rank NY private schools on safety; SNAP responds


For immediate release: Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Statement by Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, Outreach Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 862 7688 home, 314 503 0003 cell,

We applaud these compassionate men of the Horace Mann Action Coalition who are devising a system of rating New York private schools on how they handle child sex crimes.

For far too long, private institutions – both religious and secular – have evaded scrutiny on child safety issues. Many of these institutions do little to prevent abuse and cover up but spend lavishly on defense lawyers and public relations consultants when abuse reports surface. Many of them write nice-sounding policies but then ignore them.

We offer one caution, however. We urge the group to pay more attention to officials' behavior and less attention to the formal, written abuse policies of these schools. Over the past 25 years, we've seen that such policies almost always sound good on paper but are usually ignored in reality. Most private institutions are answerable to almost no one. So they often not only break secular laws, but also violate their own stated policies.

These brave, wounded men were denied justice by New York's archaic, predator-friendly statute of limitations, which was repeatedly exploited by callous Horace Mann officials. These victims were betrayed three times – once by predatory teachers, again by selfish school staff and again by lawmakers who refuse to reform the state's outdated child safety laws.

Many victims would have given up. But these men are not. They are heroes for turning their horrific experiences into something positive – an effort that will make kids safer and deter future cover ups.

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 25 years and have more than 15,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is

Contact - David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell,, Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell,

WSJ: Letter Grades for Preventing Sex Abuse

Letter Grades for Preventing Sexual Abuse Horace Mann Alumni Group Will Rate Private Schools By SOPHIA HOLLANDER
March 3, 2014 10:04 p.m. ET
Last summer, Robert Boynton was strolling through his Brooklyn neighborhood when he was struck by the grades pasted in the windows of every restaurant.