Thursday, May 12, 2016

Passaic Valley school board confidentially pays $35,000 to settle student's molestation suit.

According to a draft settlement agreement released today, the Passaic Valley Board of Education (Passaic County) has agreed to pay a former Passaic Valley High School student, who is now 23, $35,000 to settle her lawsuit which alleged that one of her high school teachers subjected her to inappropriate, sexual behavior.

In her suit, Crystal Chmielewski said that during the 2007-08 school year, one of her teachers, Demetrick A. Williams, "began a course of inappropriate affection, touching and physical battery, assault and sexual molestation of the plaintiff which included forcing plaintiff to take sexually explicit photographs of herself."  According to the lawsuit, Chmielewski's mother became aware of Williams' alleged misconduct on February 27, 2008 and Williams was arrested by the Little Falls Police the following day.  The lawsuit alleged that Williams "subsequently pled guilty to N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4B(3) Endangering the Welfare of a Child."

Also named in the suit was former Superintendent Victor Joganow.

The case is captioned Chmielewski v. Passaic Valley Board of Education, et al, Federal Case No. 2:12-cv-02993 and Chmielewski's attorney was Alan T. Friedman of Jersey City.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Chmielewski's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Passaic Valley or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Chmielewski $35,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.