The Kabbalah Centre International and one of its former co-directors should collectively pay more than $1.1 million to a former student who met the rabbi for a late-night meeting that turned into an attempted sexual assault, an attorney told a jury Friday.In his final argument to a jury hearing trial of Jena Scaccetti’s lawsuit against the KCI and Rabbi Yehuda Berg, lawyer Alain Bonavida said his client was involuntarily touched on her leg and held by Berg in a tight embrace when she met with him at his mother’s New York City apartment the night of Oct. 25-26, 2012.
“That’s a sexual assault,” Bonavida said. “She didn’t consent to that.”
But Berg’s attorney, John Cline, said his client did not sexually abuse Scaccetti.
“This is not a case about rape, this is not a case about violence,” he told the Los Angeles Superior Court jury. “This was a human encounter between two people one night in their lives.”
Attorney Jonathan Bach, on behalf of the KCI, said the organization is not culpable for what Berg did.
“Make no mistake about it, the Kabbalah Centre does not approve of what happened,” Bach said. “But putting his hand on her leg was not authorized by the organization.”
Bonavida argued KCI is liable for its alleged negligent supervision of Berg.
“The center was aware Mr. Berg had problems, but he was still there,” Bonavida said.
He recommended that the group be ordered to pay $455,000 and that Berg be held liable for $730,000.
Berg has been dubbed the “Rabbi to the Stars” and has appeared in public with the likes of Madonna and Ashton Kutcher, who have studied at the center. Scaccetti sued Berg and KCI in January 2014, alleging battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The 36-year-old plaintiff maintains that Berg gave her alcohol and a Vicodin pill to try and relax her so she would agree to have sex with him at his mother’s apartment, which was located in the Kabbalah Centre in New York City.
Scaccetti said she rejected his advances and that the four-hour visit ended with him calling for a cab to take her home, but only after he seized her phone and deleted all her text messages. She said he also threatened her harm and even death if she told anyone what happened.
“I’ll beat your body blue, I’ll kill you if you tell anyone about tonight,” Berg warned Scaccetti, according to Bonavida. “This was oppressive, horrendous conduct.”
Scaccetti was depressed for months afterward and the woman, who was raised Catholic, gave up her decision to convert to Judaism, Bonavida said.
“Here we are three years later and it still impacts her life,” Bonavida said.
But according to Cline, Scaccetti has put the incident behind her and moved on to establish her own business. He said it is disparaging to her to view her as the “pathetic, broken victim” portrayed by Bonavida.
“This is a smart, competent person making decisions,” Cline said.
As far as Berg, the admitted former alcoholic and drug abuser is recovering and left KCI in May 2014, Cline said. His final text to Scaccetti in 2013 was not defiant, but instead a statement that he hoped to one day be the person “people think I am,” according to Cline.
“He was and is a complicated, troubled human being,” Cline said of Berg, a married father of five who has authored about 30 books, including “The Power of Kabbalah” and “The 72 Names of God.” His father, Rav Berg, and brother, Michael Berg, also taught at the Los Angeles center.
The jury deliberated for about 2 1/2 hours Friday without reaching a verdict.
At the end of the day, Judge Richard Fruin allowed one of the 12 members to be excused because the panelist had told the court before the trial began that he planned to leave Monday for a trip to New York City.
Fruin said the attorneys agreed deliberations could continue Monday with 11 jurors.
— City News Service
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