Herricks district ignored reports of child sex abuse by psychologist: attorney in Child Victims Act trial

Herricks district ignored reports of child sex abuse by psychologist: attorney in Child Victims Act trial
Herricks High School. (Photo courtesy of Herricks Public Schools)

The Herricks School District ignored reports of child sex abuse citing a school psychologist in the 1980s, setting the stage for later students to be victimized, attorneys argued in the first Child Victims Act cases against a Long Island school district to go to trial.

The 2019 Child Victims Act extended the statute of limitations for survivors of child sex abuse, granting survivors more time to press criminal charges against offenders. The act also applied to civil cases, allowing victims more time to file a claim for money damages.

“One of the things that’s happening is that victims are coming forward now, decades later, and they’re exposing the institutions and the predators themselves,” said attorney Jeffrey Herman, who represents the plaintiff in the Herricks trial that began Monday.

There are currently two trials against Herricks. Both cases are being heard by a jury in Nassau County Supreme Court. The plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages for alleged abuse by a school employee, claiming the district ignored initial reports of abuse in the 1980s, thus permitting the abuse to ensue.

Prior to the law, child sex abuse survivors had between one and five years to bring a civil lawsuit against their abuser, with that one- to five-year period starting after the victim turned 18 years old.

Following the act, which was in effect through 2021, survivors could file a claim any time before they turned 55 years old.

Separate lawsuits were filed by 21 former students against the Herricks under the act. The former students allege they were abused by then-school psychologist Vincent Festa between 1973 and 1991.

Herman said the abuse his client endured could have been avoided if the district had investigated Festa and removed him from the district after a pair of students reported instances of abuse to the high school principal in 1980.

Knowledge of Festa’s alleged abuse was so rampant in the years that followed that he was widely referred to in school as “Festa the Molester,” according to Herman.

The current superintendent of the Herricks school district declined to comment, said an aide in the administration office.

In the trial that began Monday, the plaintiff, referred to as P.H. in court, said he was first abused by Festa as a freshman at the high school during the 1983-84 school year when he was sent to Festa’s office for acting out in class.

Festa shared pornographic magazines with the plaintiff while pleasuring himself and fondling the teen, said Herman.

Herman said the plaintiff had already been abused by a teen in his neighborhood a few years prior to the incident with Festa.

“He goes to see Festa because he thinks he’s going to get help and the opposite happens,” said Herman.

The plaintiff is seeking $10 million in damages.

The district’s attorney, Jessica Palmese, said the district has never “condoned or accepted child abuse.” She questioned the credibility of the witnesses, pointing out that the plaintiff has a history of credit card fraud.

The other Herricks trial opened Thursday. The plaintiff referred to as J.G. is seeking $14 million in that trial. The plaintiff claimed that Festa abused him for eight years, starting when he was a student at Herricks Middle School.

Festa was arrested in 1993 after he was accused of sexually abusing six teenagers in his Ronkonkoma neighborhood.

He was sentenced to five years of probation and required to register as a sex offender. He was later charged with one count of Sex Offender Registration Violation after failing to register his email addresses and internet service providers. He died in 2011 at 82.

The district has paid $1.1 million to settle four of the 21 claims thus far.

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