Monday, October 30, 2006

Blaming The Victim

News & Commentary

Families Should Be Able to Trust Teachers, Coaches

The Cool Justice Report
Oct. 30, 2006

EDITOR'S NOTE: This column is available for reprint courtesy of The Cool Justice Report,

A 19-year old former high school basketball player has brought a lawsuit against the Milford Board of Education, the school social worker and the superintendent of schools, Gregory Firn.

When she was a 15-year-old student at the local high school, she played on the varsity basketball team.

As is customary with high school basketball, the school sanctions players participating in off-season leagues designed solely for the high school teams. Varsity coaches cannot coach their teams in these off-season leagues and volunteer coaches are sought and approved by the head coach.

In this case a former University of Connecticut basketball star -- a man in his mid-40's with a daughter also in the program -- was given the responsibility of coaching the youngsters in the off-season league. He responded by seducing this 15-year-old player and carrying on an affair for a number of years.

Soon, the school social worker learned of the affair. The child's parents were spoken to and they denied any knowledge of it. What 15- or 16-year-old sexually involved with such an older man would admit that to her parents?

The state Department of Children and Families (DCF) was called, but never informed that the older paramour was a volunteer coach -- only that the girl was now 16. In Connecticut, 16 is generally the age of consent for sex. However, if an adult serves as a teacher, coach or volunteer, the age of consent is raised to 18.

DCF -- not knowing the role the older man played with the basketball program -- took no action. Had they been informed he served as a volunteer coach, they would not only have pursued the matter, they would have been mandated to inform the local police.

The superintendent also learned of the affair. His daughter was a friend of the student and the superintendent was a friend of the older paramour. He had even accompanied the couple to a sporting event at Madison Square Garden.

When contacted by the local police after the affair eventually came to their knowledge, the superintendent declined to discuss it, hiding behind a claim of confidentiality of student information. Meanwhile, he then wrote a letter of recommendation for his buddy.

After the school board decided not to renew the superintendent's contract, he admitted using bad judgment. The superintendent also argued in a legal pleading that he had no obligation to report such misdeeds to DCF.

The court granted the young victim pseudonym status. It allowed her to be called Jane Doe in the lawsuit, which was filed by my firm. To compound the hurt occasioned on this young lady, an attorney hired by the town to defend the superintendent filed an application in court asking the judge to remove the pseudonym status, publicizing her name.

In that application, his office included a web page from with the young woman's name and photo. After a hearing in which the judge denied the application to revoke the pseudonym protection, he held the superintendent's lawyer in contempt and fined him $1,000, ordering him to remove the filing with her identity. In arguing against the fine this lawyer actually tried to cast blame on the young victim, claiming that after all, she decided to bring a lawsuit.

In an additional insult, the town has now tried to apportion blame in the case by citing the young woman's parents in the lawsuit, essentially saying it is their fault. The coach and former UConn star -- Robert Dulin -- has yet to be added to the lawsuit. The town has not seen fit to try to apportion blame to him. Through an attorney, Dulin has denied guilt. Charged with sexual assault, Dulin also has a case in criminal court.

The youngster initially denied the affair. Experts in child sexual abuse are well aware of this syndrome where young victims are reluctant to come forward for fear of being blamed somehow. No wonder, look what is happening in this case.

Recently the New Haven Register made a freedom of information demand to the town to learn what is being spent in legal fees. So far the numbers are staggering. The town of Milford has paid $27,000 in legal fees before even responding to the complaint. The discovery process has yet to begin.

The superintendent, Firn, continues to administer the Milford public schools. His old contract expires in June 2007.

Parents entrust their children to adults to educate and coach them. Beware, if your child is victimized, you could now be blamed.

There is something out of kilter when victims are blamed for the fault of others.

Attorney Richard Meehan Jr. was the lead defense counsel for former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim's corruption trial. Meehan is certified as a criminal trial specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. Meehan has also obtained multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements in complex medical and dental malpractice and personal injury litigation. He is a past president of the Greater Bridgeport Bar Association and appears regularly on Court TV. Andy Thibault, author of Law & Justice In Everyday Life and a private investigator, is an adjunct lecturer of English and a mentor in the MFA writing program at Western Connecticut State University. Thibault also serves as a consulting editor for the literary journal Connecticut Review. Website, and Blog,

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