Expert witnesses lined up in Girl Doe lawsuit

With no decision yet on the motion to dismiss filed by the town’s attorneys, a Stamford Superior Court trial is still scheduled for Nov. 1 in the lawsuit filed by a family who claims their daughter was molested by former paraprofessional Eric Von Kohorn. The family claims Von Kohorn inappropriately touched their preschool-aged daughter when he took her to the bathroom at Miller-Driscoll School in 2013.

Attorneys for the town and Board of Education disclosed on Sept. 1 a list of expert witnesses they expect to call should the suit make it to trial. Four of them have also been listed by attorneys for the plaintiff.

Experts for the defense include:

  • Dr. Sharon Cooper, a board-certified pediatrician from Fort Bragg, N.C.;

  • Dominic F. Gullo, Ph.D., professor of early childhood education and associate dean for research in the Drexel University School of Education in Philadelphia;

  • James A. Monk, Ed.D., president of Frontline Associates in Danbury, and consultant to schools and legal firms on public education;

  • Eileen C. Treacy, Ph.D., a psychologist from Bronx, N.Y., specializing in applied developmental psychology;

  • Jill Sherman, a behavioral therapist from Stamford at Waverly Group, who was the child’s therapist for a period of time;

  • James Martin, a licensed clinical social worker at Miller-Driscoll School.

Attorneys for the child, known in court documents as Girl Doe, and her family have also named Gullo, Sherman, Treacy, and Cooper as expert witnesses for the plaintiffs. An additional expert witness for the plaintiffs was identified as Karen Olio of Mental Health Service in Norwalk. These witnesses were named in May and July.

Thomas R. Gerarde of Howd & Ludorf LLC of Hartford, representing the town, asserted in the court document that Sherman said Girl Doe “would not tell the truth when the truth made her uncomfortable.” The document further says “Ms. Sherman’s treatment of Girl Doe addressed behaviors relating to inaccurate reporting, fabricating, lying, not telling the truth, as well as behaviors that were manipulative or controlling.”

Paul Slager of Silver Golub & Teitell LLP in Stamford, attorney for Girl Doe and her parents, said in a document filed with the court  that Sherman may be called to testify about her opinions on the girl’s condition and prognosis, the causes of the girl’s condition and prognosis and aspects of her evaluation and treatment of the girl.

Gerarde expects Gullo to testify that a school is not required to terminate an employee when the employee denies any wrongdoing and there is no eyewitness or video evidence to support a complaint of abuse.

A document filed by the plaintiffs said Gullo was expected to offer an opinion that Girl Doe’s report of abuse must be considered truthful given her age and stage of development at the time the report was made. She had just turned 4.

He is also expected to tell the court that the failure of Fred Rapczynski, then director of the preschool and now retired, and other school employees to recognize the girl’s report as credible was negligent.

Martin is expected to testify that when he met with Girl Doe and her parents as part of an initial evaluation for the girl’s eligibility for special education services, the parents expressed a number of concerns that their daughter was impulsive, aggressive, expressed anger towards her mother and had difficulty with peer relationships.

Gerarde also anticipated Martin would offer the opinion that Girl Doe demonstrated sexualized behaviors prior to her report of abuse by Von Kohorn.

Martin’s deposition was used by the plaintiffs in their objection to the town’s motion to dismiss.

Treacy, who is also an independent court expert, will address the role of a child abuse investigator and information gleaned on her forensic investigation of Girl Doe in November 2014. Among the questions the girl was asked, according to the court document submitted, was if anyone had ever touched her private parts and she said “never,” except for her mother, and did not mention Von Kohorn.

The plaintiffs expect Treacy to say Girl Doe will likely need intermittent cognitive/behavioral/trauma-focused therapy at times in her life to deal with her sexual development. She is also expected to say the girl’s parents, particularly her mother, feel betrayed by the school system.

Cooper, who is a forensic pediatrician at the Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg, is expected to say Girl Doe’s allegedly aggressive behavior on the playground is part of normal development and any sexualized behavior — as opposed to sexually explicit behavior — is not necessarily indicative of abuse. She is also expected to say a child abuse investigator should take into account any history the child has of lying or exaggerating.

Cooper, who has evaluated Girl Doe and her parents, is expected to say for the plaintiffs that Girl Doe suffered physically from the alleged abuse and psychologically from “the rejection of her efforts to disclose her abuse.” The girl is also unable to focus, is anxious, and exhibits a strong negative reaction to men who physically resemble Von Kohorn, the document says.

Monk’s testimony is expected to cover how district personnel met “the standard of care” regarding the hiring and supervision of Von Kohorn and subsequent report of abuse.

Olio treated Girl Doe’s parents and may be called to testify about their condition and prognosis related to the report of abuse.