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COURT Verdict: City teacher was not negligent



Published: Sat, August 13, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



A jury voted 6-2 for the defendants and awarded no damages.

YOUNGSTOWN -- Cleveland lawyer Joel Levin said he was outraged a jury did not find a Youngstown teacher liable for failing to report alleged child abuse.

A jury returned a verdict Friday on behalf of the Youngstown City School District and teacher Helen Marino and against Levin and his clients.

The jury deliberated nearly seven hours in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court before voting 6-2 for the defendants, who were represented by lawyers John Pfau and James E. Roberts.

Marino's only comment after the verdict was "the system works." Judge Jack M. Durkin presided over the trial.

Pfau said the jury determined that Marino wasn't negligent by not reporting the alleged abuse by Derek Kraynak's mother and that she didn't violate the state's child abuse reporting statute. Because negligence wasn't established, the jury did not award any monetary damages.

Cry for help

Levin, however, couldn't hide his disappointment and anger that a jury wouldn't believe what he described as the pleas of a 9-year-old boy crying for help -- pleas he had written in his journal from September 1999 to May 2000 when he was a pupil in Marino's class.

"A child shouldn't have to write like Ernest Hemingway or Saul Bellows" to convince a jury he was being truthful and being abused, Levin said, repeatedly saying the verdict was outrageous.

Levin and his associate, Christopher Vlasich, had asked the jury to award damages of $2,050,000 if they found Marino and the school district liable for negligence.

Donald T. Kraynak, on behalf of his son, Derek, now 15, filed suit in 2001 against Marino and the school district. Kraynak now has custody of his son.

Levin had asserted during the four days of testimony that Marino's failure to report the abuse to proper authorities when Derek was a fourth-grader in her class at West Elementary School resulted in "innumerable instances of physical, mental and emotional abuse and humiliation by his mother and her numerous felonious boyfriends."

Expert advice

Levin said his expert witnesses, including the chairman of Kent State University's education department, testified that they thought Marino had violated her statutory duty and district policy to report abuse, and the defendants never brought in any experts to rebut their testimony.

Because of Marino's negligence, Derek suffered an additional 81/2 months of beatings by his mother, Levin had argued. Those beatings contributed to a host of mental problems, he said.

Pfau had argued that Derek's journal, written as a class assignment, in and of itself was not designed to report abuse. Marino, who has taught gifted and special children for 20 years, designed the journal as a class creative-writing exercise.

Marino never saw any signs of abuse; therefore she did not suspect abuse, Pfau had argued. The expert witnesses said there should be no report made if a teacher does not suspect abuse has occurred. Therefore, the teacher did follow the child abuse reporting statute, Pfau said.




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