On March 17 2016, Peter F. Starrs, Business Administrator of the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional Board of Education (Somerset County) was the final school official to sign off on an agreement to pay $100,000 to a then 15-year old sophomore who claimed that her 9th grade Spanish teacher “used his encounters with” her “as a pretext to further his own interests and to groom [her] for satisfying his own personal desires.”
In her lawsuit, the student, identified only by her initials, said that teacher George H. Friery, Jr. “flirted” with her, texted her frequently, arranged for hall passes so she could skip other classes to visit with him and engaged in graphically sexual conversation with her.
According to the lawsuit, Friery, who was allegedly at them time 50 years old and married with two children, told the girl that she had “the best body,” discussed “spreading the eagle” and told her that “every time you hear the school bell ring, I want you to get wet thinking about f***ing me.” Friery allegedly masturbated while speaking with V.F. on the phone and, according to the lawsuit, on one evening masturbated while parked in front of the girl’s house. The lawsuit alleged that Friery demanded nude photos of the 15 year old and then “leveraged his coercive control and influence over [her] by his threats to expose the images.”
After she told Friery that she wanted to cease contact because she felt bad for his wife and children, he allegedly ratcheted up his threats of exposing the photos and demanded that she spend a weekend with him in 2009. The same day, the girls father discovered images on her laptop “including one depicting a sexually stimulated Friery” and reported the matter to the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office.
Despite the girl’s parents’ plea that the investigation proceed confidentially, school officials allegedly publicly called her from class to the office where he was transported to the prosecutor’s office in the back seat of a police car. This and other alleged instances of indiscretion and blabber-mouthing by school officials caused the girl to return to a hostile school environment where she was “subject to bullying, called a ‘sl*t,’ shoved into lockers and humiliated in many other ways.”
Friery was reportedly indicted on December 17, 2009, pled guilty to an amended charge on November 16, 2010 and was sentenced to 364 days in jail, parole supervision for life, revocation of his teacher’s license and registration under Megan’s law.
The case bears Somerset County Superior Court Docket No. SOM-L-268-14 and the girl’s attorneys were Gregory G. Gianforcaro of Phillipsburg and Glenn T. Wertheim of Bridgewater. Case documents are on-line here. The settlement releases only the school district and its official from the lawsuit.
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 the girl’s allegations have been proven or disproven in civil court although the criminal conviction speaks for itself. 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 the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional school board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay this girl. $100,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision 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 resolve before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.