(Photo credit Herricks High School on YouTube)

Herricks Child Victims Act Case Settled

Will potentially impact other CVA cases going forward

Vincent Festa, former psychologist accused in the lawsuit. (Photo credit SCPD)

Locals may be aware of the bumpy road that has been the latest lawsuit against a Long Island school district. The Child Victims Act case brought against former psychologist Vincent Festa had been a multi-day deliberation for the jury. The ruling of this case may have set a new precedent for the financial outcome of dozens of unresolved cases across Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The plaintiff, identified in court records by the initials J. G., alleged he was sexually abused by Festa beginning in 1989, when he was a middle school student in the district, and that the psychologist sexually abused him on four occasions during his ninth- and tenth-grade school years. This case was one of 21 claims filed under the CVA accusing Herricks High School administrators of ignoring reports that Festa, now deceased, abused students during his two-decade career with the district.

The plaintiff was represented by attorney Jeff Herman of Herman Law in Manhattan. “This case is about someone having to rely on someone else to enforce safety rules to make them safe,” Herman told the jury. “We are suing the Herricks School District because they failed to follow the most basic safety rule and that is they didn’t forward reports and warnings that Festa was molesting kids.”

The case for the plaintiff included multiple named instances they believe should have caused the district to investigate Festa, who was allegedly referred to by staff and students as “Festa the Molester,” dating back at least a decade before the plaintiff attended the high school. Herman asked the jury to consider at least $14 million in damages in the case.

The allegations against Festa span from 1973 to 1991. He was arrested by Suffolk police in 1993 and accused of sexually abusing six teenagers in his Ronkonkoma neighborhood. He pleaded guilty in 1995 to sodomizing the boys and was sentenced to 5 years of probation and required to register as a sex offender.

While the district conceded during the two-week trial that Festa, who died in 2011 at the age of 82, sexually abused the plaintiff and other students, it has denied that school officials condoned his actions by ignoring reports from staff, students and parents. “Vincent Festa must bear the full weight of responsibility for the evil things we heard,” argued Melissa Jampol, of Epstein Becker Green in Manhattan, attorneys for the district.

The Nassau County jury deliberated for eight hours over three days before delivering their decision to Justice Felice Muraca. On Friday, March 15, the jury of five women and one man delivered their verdict, that the Herricks School District was not negligent in this case.

Timothy Martin, of Lynbrook, one of the jurors who voted not to hold the district legally responsible, said while he was sympathetic to the victim, there was not enough evidence to prove Herricks was aware of Festa’s conduct and failed to take action. “They didn’t have enough concrete evidence to prove that they were negligent,” Martin told Newsday. “We were looking for documentation. There was no documentation. There were no complaints. And the one witness they did have, his account was not concrete.”

This decision, which many have deemed controversial, has the potential to change the ways financial settlements are considered in future Child Victims Act cases. For this 2023-24 school year, Herricks set aside $2.1 million for “claims and judgments” in its voter-approved budget. The board of education has added $3.5 million to the fund in recent months, specifically citing the need to pay for Child Victims Act lawsuits. The board approved adding $2 million in February and $1.5 million at its meeting earlier this month.

A Newsday investigation suggested that 27 Long Island school districts paid a combined $31.6 million to settle 42 CVA lawsuits by former students who say teachers, administrators and fellow students sexually abused them. The individual settlement amounts range from $5,000 to $8 million. About 100 CVA lawsuits against public school districts on Long Island are still pending. Herricks previously paid $1.25 million to settle four CVA cases involving Festa, with the settlement amounts ranging from $50,000 to $800,000, according to documents Newsday obtained from the district under the Freedom of Information Law.

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