EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 28, 2013

Lawyer: Brooks School withholds information

Lawsuit says alumnus raped by woman when he was 15

By Mark E. Vogler
mvogler@eagletribune.com

---- — BOSTON — An attorney who filed a lawsuit against Brooks School called school officials “hypocrites” for withholding information about a former administrator who allegedly raped a student when he was 15.

“Clearly, this suit forced them to say something they were not willing to discuss previously,” Boston lawyer Carmen Durso said yesterday in a response to an email from Brooks officials which mentioned past allegations of misconduct involving Lois Poirot, the ex-assistant director of admissions who is a defendant in the lawsuit.

“That is the real story -— schools not doing the right thing until they are outed publicly,” Durso said.

Durso issued a press release yesterday which was critical of an email Brooks officials sent Thursday night to the school’s alumni, parents of students, and friends of the prestigious North Andover boarding school in response to the lawsuit.

The email — sent jointly by Headmaster John Packard and William Booth, president of the Brooks School Board of Trustees — called the claim “obviously troubling, made even more so because it is consistent with a similar account of such conduct on her part brought to the school’s attention and settled confidentially decades ago.”

Durso’s press release noted that the school’s email acknowledged for the first time “that it knew of the teacher’s past misconduct.”

“However, the school had failed to release this information previously, despite being asked to make full public disclosure about Poirot by one of John’s attorneys, Eric MacLeish, in May,’’ the press release said, referring to John Doe, the anonymous alleged victim who brought the lawsuit. “John is grateful to the media whose coverage of the suit filing caused Brooks to make this information public.’’

In the lawsuit, the former student, who is now 51, said he was sexually abused by Poirot during the period of 1978 to 1980. His identity will be revealed in an affidavit to defendants once they are formally served, according to the suit. Former Brooks Headmaster H. Peter Aitken and 10 yet-to-be named Brooks administrators and faculty members who knew about Poirot’s alleged misconduct, according to the suit, have also been named as defendants.

Brooks officials noted in their email that the lawsuit “is a direct outgrowth of our outreach to the Brooks community in January, when we shared with you our concerns about the conduct of Lawrence W. Becker during his tenure as headmaster of Brooks School.”

“As you will recall, in that letter we informed you about troubling information that had come to our attention about Mr. Becker,’’ the email said. “At the same time, we asked you to share with us any personal knowledge you might have had that would call into question Mr. Becker’s conduct and/or oversight during his time at Brooks.

“Soon after this letter went out, we received a claim for compensation from the alumnus who is now suing Brooks,’’ the email said. “We immediately entered into discussions with him to address any harm he felt he had suffered, and we reported his allegation to the Essex County District Attorney’s Office. Although we have not been able to agree on a settlement, we remain interested in resolving this matter and hope that we can continue to engage in conversations that will achieve that goal.”

A spokeswoman for Brooks School said officials won’t comment on the press release issued by Durso. The school also declined to elaborate on information it released about Poirot, including when she left the school and whether any other complaints had been received about her.

“They can’t plead the privacy of Lois Perot because that’s already gone,” Durso said.

“That (Brooks School email) gives the false impression that they’re trying to do the right thing,’’ Durso said. “The question is how long have they known this and failed to do anything about it? I’d like to see them more forthcoming on what happened. But they don’t want other victims to realize they can come forward. One of the biggest problems that survivors of abuse have is coming to realize that they’re not the only ones who were abused.’’