A Stamford-based attorney with 20 years of experience representing sex abuse survivors has reached an undisclosed settlement stemming from a lawsuit which asserts sexual abuse of a 4-year-old girl by a Wilton educator.
Paul Slager, a partner with Silver Golub & Teitell, told the Connecticut Law Tribune Thursday that if you can’t get emotional about representing sex abuse victims than you should not be representing them in the first place.
“Every case like this is a challenge emotionally and it’s painful. I don’t think it’s possible in working with families in this situation to become numb,” said Slager, who was assisted on the case by firm associate Michael Kennedy. “If you do get numb to this, you probably should not be doing these cases. If it doesn’t affect you, you cannot sufficiently represent the survivor.”
While the lawsuit involving the girl is now closed, Slager is currently representing the parents of a young boy who was also allegedly sexually abused by the same individual: Eric Von Kohorn, a former Miller-Driscoll Elementary School paraprofessional who worked with preschool students.
“Discovery is ongoing in that case,” Slager said. “They are two independent cases, but they do overlap involving the same time period and perpetrator.”
Slager said he was proud to represent the girl’s parents in the case, adding, “In these kinds of cases there are no winners. When you represent survivors, even a successful lawsuit is not a victory. This is a situation where a young girl can be dealing with the impact of this over the course of her life. The settlement does reflect the seriousness of the situation.”
The settlement between the girl’s parents and the defendants, the Wilton Board of Education and town of Wilton, was reached Tuesday. Slager declined to say how much the settlement was, but had earlier offered to settle the case for $4.2 million. The lawsuit alleges the girl was sexually abused at least once by Von Kohorn. The incident allegedly occurred in the school bathroom about five years ago. Von Kohorn, a Fairfield resident who worked at the school from 2007-2014, was sentenced in 2015 to two years in prison after pleading guilty to possessing more than 100 images of child pornography on his computer. He was not charged with any crimes against any specific individuals.
Slager said the most challenging part of the case was the issue of municipal immunity, which the defense attempted to use. “It was one of their principal defenses. It was a unique challenge and would not have been an issue if this had been in a private setting and not in a public school.”
Slager said the plaintiff’s side overcame the immunity defense because of the strength of the witnesses in deposition.
“We made it clear that the case fell squarely within the exceptions of municipal immunity,” he said.
Slager declined to address whether the girl is still in the elementary school or if the family moved out of Wilton. He said the total number of students allegedly abused by Von Kohorn remains unknown.
The suit states that staff members were aware the girl had gone into the bathroom with Von Kohorn unaccompanied, which is against school rules, but allegedly did nothing about it. It also alleges Dr. Fred Rapczynski, then director of the school’s preschool, made false representations about the bathroom incident which led the parents to continue to keep the girl in the school with Von Kohorn working there. The lawsuit does not state, though, if there was more than one alleged assault, and Slager did not answer that question.
Still, the lawsuit states that in early January 2013, Rapczynski issued a report in which he informed the Department of Children and Families of the incident. Rapczynski, who has since retired, informed DCF that he had already conducted an investigation, had interviewed Von Kohorn and others who worked with the girl, and that the investigation led him to conclude the “information did not support (Girl Doe’s) claims.” The next day, the lawsuit says, Rapczynski “directly contradicted” his earlier report revealing that Von Kohorn admitted escorting the girl into the bathroom, although he denied any wrongdoing.
Rapczynski breached his nondiscretionary obligation, the lawsuit states, because he did not tell the parents that the teacher had gone in the bathroom with the student. The parents, unaware that Von Kohorn was ever in the bathroom with their daughter, agreed the teacher could be allowed back into her classroom during the 2013-14 school year. While the suit does not specify additional claims of alleged sexual assault, it does say that Rapczynski and school officials engaged in negligence and that the girl “has suffered and will continue to suffer significant loss in the enjoyment of her life’s activities.”
Reached at Rapczynski’s Naugatuck home Thursday, a woman answered and said he would not be talking to the media. Thomas Gerarde, of Howd & Ludorf in Hartford who represents the town of Wilton and the Wilton Board of Education, did not respond to requests for comment.