Counselor Faces More Abuse Charges;
Second Ex-Student Comes Forward

By Stephen Koff
Plain Dealer [Cleveland, Ohio]
October 7, 1993

A week after being sued by a former student for alleged sexual abuse, Lake Catholic High School ex-guidance counselor/librarian Jerry Bals has been indicted on criminal sex charges.

The charges involve alleged sexual incidents with a student in 1971, 1972 and 1974. The alleged victim, now in her 30s, is not the same woman who sued Bals last week and accused him of similar sexual crimes 20 years ago. Even more charges are being considered. Lake County Prosecutor Steven C. LaTourette said four other women had contacted his office with complaints about Bals.

"As a result of the events of the last couple of weeks, we have received more pieces of information from more people," he said, adding that he will evaluate the claims to decide whether to seek additional indictments.

The popular Bals, who now works as the librarian at North High School in Eastlake, pleaded not guilty at an arraignment yesterday in Lake County Common Pleas Court. He was released on a $500 bond, posted by lawyer James K. Farrell. Bals, phoned at his home in Eastlake, would not comment, and Farrell did not return a reporter's calls.

If convicted, Bals could face up to 33 years in prison.

The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland has temporarily removed the 52-year-old educator from his deacon's duties because of the claims made in last week's lawsuit, according to Feliciano Santiago, director of the diocese legal office. Bals had been a deacon since 1973 at St. Justin Martyr Church in Eastlake.

"Once the accusation is made, because of the trauma that it can cause everyone, that person must step down from the ministry," Santiago said. "That has already happened. That happened last week."

Santiago said Bals was cooperating with the inquiry by the diocese into charges made by Mary Hammond, 37, a rape crisis counselor in Cleveland who last week sued Bals, Lake Catholic and the Cleveland Diocese.

However, Hammond has accused the diocese of doing little more than offering to move Bals to a new office with a window, so he could be watched, and sending him for counseling when she complained to them several years after the alleged sexual incidents.

Bals left Lake Catholic in Mentor in 1983 and worked for several years at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland. In 1988, he joined the staff of North High School, a public school. He is currently on sick leave after undergoing a kidney procedure.

A grand jury secretly indicted Bals last week on two counts of gross sexual imposition for acts in 1974, and three counts of felonious assault for acts in 1971 and 1972 in which he allegedly took "indecent and improper liberties" with a student under age 16.

At North High School, principal George Spinner said he did not know how the charges against Bals would affect his employment there.

"The kids hold him in high regard," Spinner said. "He's a good guy. He runs our SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving) program here. He does that with the kids, and they like being around him. He's a nice person to be around."

Addressing the charges against Bals, the principal said, "I just can't see that in Mr. Bals."

Willoughby-Eastlake Superintendent Roger J. Lulow said he would probably meet with Bals and his lawyer "and see what is in the best interest for him and in the best interest of the school system."

Bals cannot be suspended unless the school system intends to fire him, Lulow said.

While charges are pending, one option would be to reassign Bals to a position where he doesn't interact with students. Another, Lulow said, would be to extend the sick leave. "Or thirdly, he could come to school every day," Lulow said. "You're innocent until you're proven guilty."


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