Morris Judge Closes Parts of Civil Trial in Delbarton Sex Abuse Case
By Ben Horowitz
June 2, 2014
|Superior Court Judge Stephan Hansbury presides at a hearing in February. Today he ruled that parts of a trial involving Delbarton School will be closed, and others will be open. (Louis Hochman/NJ.com)|
A Superior Court judge today ordered his courtroom closed to the press and public during opening statements in a civil trial brought by a man known as “John Doe” who wants to be released from a confidentiality agreement he signed after settling a sexual abuse lawsuit against the Delbarton School in Morris Township in 1988.
Delbarton had sought to close the trial to the public, but Judge Stephan Hansbury in Morristown denied the motion.
Hansbury ruled that some portions of the trial would be open, and others closed, including the opening statements, the victim's testimony and various testimony and proceedings, "as appropriate."
Hansbury, in Morristown, said "some issues are protected by prior agreement," resulting in the closing of the courtroom at certain points.
Because the victim was a minor at the time of the sexual abuse, his identity must remain confidential until the case is resolved, according to a legal authority.
But both sides appeared to outline their general strategies for the trial in an open hearing that preceded the opening statements.
An attorney for Delbarton said allowing the victim to get out of the confidentiality agreement would open the gates to a new “do-over law” in New Jersey that could let anyone renege on a contract after suffering “buyer’s remorse.”
The attorney for the victim, who was sexually abused by a priest while in his teens, said it is “extremely important” that the man, now in his 40s, be allowed the “emotional end” of speaking out publicly about what happened to him, calling the confidentiality agreement a “restrictive covenant.”
Hansbury denied a Delbarton motion to bar testimony by a licensed family therapist who has evaluated “John Doe” as part of his lawsuit.
Delbarton’s attorney, Jan Brody, said “permitting a contract to be voided based on the mental health of someone” would be akin to saying, “Can we have a do-over because of buyer’s remorse?”
Brody said it would be like having Donald Sterling, the embattled owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, sell the team and then come back 25 years later and say, “You need to assist me in coping with my trauma – I need you to give me the Clippers back.”
Brody also challenged the qualifications of the therapist, Geraldine Kerr of Hackettstown, pointing out that she is neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist.
The victim’s attorney, Gregory Gianforcaro, countered that “testing regarding (John Doe’s) mental health issues has been laid out from the beginning” and pointed out that “compelling circumstances” warrant allowing “John Doe” to speak out about the abuse.
Gianforcaro has also pointed out that under guidelines adopted by the Catholic Church in 2002, confidentiality agreements are barred, unless requested by victims.
As a licensed family therapist, Gianforcaro said, Kerr has evaluated “hundreds of victims of childhood sexual abuse,” including his client.
The judge pointed out that Kerr has a doctorate in marriage and family therapy, which he called an “appropriate qualification to provide testing.” He added that when she does testify, he will limit her testimony to what is relevant.
“John Doe” was a victim of the Rev. Timothy Brennan, who pleaded guilty to criminal sexual contact in 1987. Prosecutors said he showed the victim pornography and urged him to masturbate in front of the monk. The victim was between 13 and 15 at the time, according to court papers.