Mistrial Declared in BHHS Sexual Abuse Trial

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge H. Jay Ford III declared a mistrial on April 3 in the civil case filed against the Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD), Beverly Hills High School (BHHS) and former baseball coach Henry “Hank” Friedman regarding alleged incidents of sexual abuse from 1978 to 1981. 

The plaintiff, Lauren Siegman, alleged that Friedman sexually assaulted and abused her some four decades ago while she was a student at BHHS. She further alleged that the school district failed to protect her and other victims by failing to take appropriate action against Friedman. 

Friedman was charged with five criminal counts including sexual assault in 1981 following a police investigation, but later pleaded no contest to the lesser charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Although he initially faced a maximum sentence of one year in jail, he was ultimately sentenced to 500 hours of community service. 

The alleged incidents took place over 40 years ago, but Siegman was able to file a civil suit in August 2020 because in October 2019 Governor Newsom passed Assembly Bill 218, which temporarily extended the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits regarding alleged childhood sexual abuse. That window closed in December 2023.

Siegman sought general damages against BHHS, BHUSD and Friedman as well as punitive damages against Friedman. The punitive damages were later dropped.  The trial began on March 11, 2024, and the 12-member jury entered deliberations on March 29. On April 3, jurors notified the court that they were unable to reach a decision on the key issue of whether BHHS had notice of any prior abuse committed by Friedman. Nine votes were needed for a verdict, but the vote returned was 7 to 5 in favor of BHHS. 

“Without coming to a decision on the notice issue, the jury could not deliberate on issues relating to damages,” Friedman’s attorney Dana M. Cole told the Courier. 

Not only was the jury unable to determine damages against the district, it also could not determine damages against Friedman. 

“There’s a percentage allocation so they couldn’t decide whether the school district was at fault and what percentage of fault, if any, that would be. Therefore, they couldn’t decide any damages against Friedman,” said Cole. 

A hearing to set a new trial date is scheduled for April 5, but Cole doesn’t anticipate a new trial sooner than several months from now. “Cases are often settled during this time,” he noted. 

For its part, BHHS issued the following statement from Superintendent Dr. Michael Bregy on April 4:

“This week marks a significant moment for our school district as the Santa Monica Civil Court has not been able to return a verdict in a deeply troubling case that dates back over forty-three years. On Wednesday, April 3rd, the judge declared a mistrial. The court’s decision, reached after careful consideration of all facts and testimony, reflects the complexity of navigating a chapter that is decades old when innumerable inconsistencies are presented. 

As this case was and is of utmost importance to BHUSD, I attended court every day, from jury selection to the declaration of a mistrial on Wednesday. This case is a sobering reminder of the vigilance required in protecting the vulnerable among us as well as the importance of acting with integrity and accountability. To this end, Beverly Hills Unified School District reaffirms its unwavering commitment to being a place where every student feels safe, supported, and valued.” 

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