Judge says Delbarton School lawsuit against attorney will go forward

(NJ.com) MORRIS TOWNSHIP — In June, attorney Gregory Gianforcaro held a news conference outside the Morris County Courthouse to announce his client, a victim of sexual abuse in the 1980s at the Delbarton School, wanted to join a growing chorus of men speaking out about violations they claim went on secretly for years at the school.

Gianforcaro said he was filing a lawsuit on his client’s behalf, seeking to free him from a confidentiality clause in a settlement agreement his client had signed with Delbarton at age 19 in lieu of suing the all-boys Catholic school.

And at some point that afternoon, Gianforcaro also mentioned, according to a Star-Ledger article published the next day, that the 1988 settlement paid his client seven figures.

That utterance of seven figures, Delbarton’s lawyer said today, meant Gianforcaro himself had knowingly violated the confidentiality clause in the 1988 settlement agreement.

And even though Gianforcaro was not a party to the agreement, the abbey that runs Delbarton soon brought its own lawsuit against him.

Today, in a ruling lawyers say addresses a unique issue, Judge Stephan Hansbury declared that Delbarton’s lawsuit against Gianforcaro will not be dismissed and may go forward.

And Gianforcaro, who is also the lead lawyer in a separate lawsuit brought last year by five former Delbarton students and residents who claim a litany of past abuse, will now be fighting on various fronts: He said he’ll work to extricate himself from his own legal troubles while also pushing forward on behalf of the five plaintiffs and the man — whose identity has not been revealed — who wants to speak out about what he said he endured in the 1980s.

“I would have to have my head in the sand” not to know about the lawsuit and allegations made against the Morris Township school for more than a year, Hansbury said just before issuing his ruling. “It’s been in the paper.”

But, he said, “what matters is … the integrity of the confidentiality agreement.”

Pointing out that Gianforcaro was told by his client about the 1988 settlement and its terms — and while noting that confidentiality clauses are common practice — the judge said, “I cannot accept the premise that (an attorney who) violates this agreement who has read it …. has the right to go out and speak. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Still, he said repeatedly that he wasn’t yet ruling on whether a breach of the settlement agreement had taken place.

Gianforcaro showed little emotion as the judge ruled. But afterward, in a cramped hallway news conference, he grew animated, insisting Delbarton’s suit against him was a callous maneuver meant to “intimidate.”

“I think they’re trying to silence me, as well as any other potential victim from coming out or any lawyer from representing any potential victim,” he said. Calling sexual abuse of youth by authority figures “a crime of silence,” he said, “When a confidentiality agreement is entered into, when a victim is forced into it by the employer of the abuser, then that is an extension of his (the abuser’s) abuse.”

Gianforcaro also said he did not recall making the “seven figure” statement last June.

Asked later to elaborate, he would only say of The Star-Ledger article, “It’s not an accurate depiction of exactly what I said.” He refused to comment further.

Michael Critchley, the lawyer for Delbarton and the Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey — the abbey that runs the school — argued in court today that Gianforcaro “intentionally and knowingly” held the June news conference not to advocate for his client — known only as “John Doe” — but rather to try to drum up more business for himself by attracting new clients who may hear of the seven-figure settlement.

“He was announcing a seven-figure settlement — yelling almost,” he said, adding that Gianforcaro was simultaneously violating the confidentiality clause from which he sought to free his client.

Mark Crawford, a victim’s rights advocate, said after the hearing that the victim in 1988 was too young to understand the silence he was agreeing to and its lifelong impact.

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Judge says Delbarton School lawsuit against attorney will go forward
Jason Grant/The Star-Ledger
April 12, 2013
Gianforcaro also said that in 2002, Delbarton sent a letter to victims saying the school would be “open and transparent” about allegations of clergy abuse but when “John Doe” said he wanted to tell his story, they threatened him then with legal action based on the confidentiality clause.