Lawyers for both sides in the refund lawsuit notified the court in writing on Tuesday, September 30, 2014 that they had reached an “oral agreement.” The Failed Messiah blog reported the filing of their Joint Initial Status Report.
This lawsuit was filed on 8/4/14 by parents who enrolled their daughters in Elimelech Meisels’ seminaries for this academic year (2014-2015). They did not send their daughters after the Chicago Beis Din (CBD) reported sex abuse by Meisels and advised against attending these four seminaries (Pninim, Chedvas, Keser Chaya, and Binas).
Within weeks, Touro College and Hebrew Theological College withdrew accreditation. This meant the students were no longer eligible for either US government aid or for college credit. . When these parents requested refunds of their tuition deposits (which could run up to $20,500) they were given the run-around.
According to the recent filing, “Defendants have reached an oral settlement agreement with the named plaintiffs as well as eight other individuals that anticipate becoming named plaintiffs in the event that settlement discussions break down.” In other words, the proposed settlement now covers around fifteen parents. It may end up covering more parents who join before a settlement is finalized.
This is the outcome I predicted because the defendants do not want court proceedings to move to the pre-trial discovery phase which can lead to orders to turn over documents and compel defendants and others to give depositions where they have to testify under oath or affirmation. Such proceedings would expose the sex abuse by Meisels as well as knowledge of the abuse and cover-ups by others.
The refund lawsuit also alleged a conspiracy to improperly hold onto the tuition deposits by Mr. Yaakov Yarmush, the new “owner,” Rabbi Tzvi Gartner, a member of the Israeli Beis Din (IBD), and Mrs. Rachel Slanger, Meisels’ sister who operates the seminaries’ office in Lakewood. The discovery process could have also exposed misconduct in blocking the refunds by these parties, and other members of the IBD.
The oral notice to the court does not specify the exact terms of the settlement. I suspect it is for the full amount of the deposit plus legal expenses. Otherwise I would have expected the parents to decline the offer because they stood to collect triple damages if it went to trial.
I am guessing the total settlement will run to about $200,000 or more based on up to $20,500 per student for approximately ten students, plus attorney fees.
(Note- In some cases, both parents of a student are listed as plaintiffs which makes it harder to get an exact count of claims. Moreover, some parents deposited less, or even a lot less, than the full tuition. This also makes it hard to determine the size of the settlement.)
This is not the end of legal problems for Meisels and the seminaries. There may well be lawsuits by victims of abuse by Meisels. Sex abuse lawsuits can be for much larger amounts. Those lawsuits will doubtlessly list the seminaries along with Meisels as defendants.
Meisels may also face criminal charges under Israeli law. Around 4 years ago, Israel made it illegal to exploit a professional relationship to get sexual favors. Under this law you cannot defend yourself by claiming the relationship was consensual. The law applies to teacher relationships with students and clergy relationships with those who come to them for counseling or religious purposes.
Meanwhile, the greater dispute about the seminaries continues. The CBD is not backing down from blocking accreditation for the seminaries. Without accreditation the seminaries will not be able to successfully recruit for the 2015-2016 academic year. The recruitment season starts in a few weeks and typically closes around the end of the calendar year.
The CBD is demanding authentic proof that Meisels has no organizational or financial connection to the seminaries. They are also demanding the dismissal of some staff involved in covering up abuse including some of the principals.
We have not heard a peep from the Israeli Beis Din or their PR vehicle, the Daas Torah blog of Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn, since the CBD issued its unusually detailed letter about the abuse and cover-ups at the seminaries. I think they have concluded that they cannot intimidate the CBD and they will just have to find a way to meet their terms.
I expect to see more stories about the seminaries scandal in the mainstream media, in addition to the coverage by the Chicago Tribune and the JTA wire service. I am aware of two stories in the pipeline, one of which will probably come out later this month.
Shneur Nathan (Lead Counsel) Andrew M. Hale Hale Law LLC 53 W. Jackson Blvd. Suite 330 Chicago, Illinois 60604 312-870-6927