A jury Tuesday ordered Kabbalah Centre International and a former co-director to pay a total of $177,500 in compensatory and punitive damages to an ex-student to whom the rabbi made sexual advances.
The Los Angeles Superior Court panel decided Jena Scaccetti should collectively receive $127,500 in compensatory damages from KCI and Rabbi Yehuda Berg.
The jury deliberated about a day and a half before finding that Berg, 43, was liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress, but not battery.
Berg — who 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 — was ordered to pay Scaccetti $85,000.
The panel also concluded that Berg acted with malice, triggering the second phase of trial this afternoon to determine if Scaccetti was entitled to punitive damages. The $50,000 awarded was far less than the $350,000 recommended by her lawyer, Alain Bonavida.
KCI was not liable for any punitive damages, but was ordered to pay the plaintiff $42,500 in compensatory damages for not properly supervising Berg.
Both sides agreed before the deliberations to have the case decided by 11 jurors, seven of them women. The panel fell one short of the usual 12 when Judge Richard Fruin on Friday kept a promise to a juror allowing him to leave on a pre-planned trip to New York.
Fruin is on vacation, so the verdicts were taken by Judge James Dunn, who had to make a key ruling in the punitive damages phase when he decided Berg’s wife did not have to testify because of the marital privilege.
Bonavida argued the privilege did not apply because he did not seek to have Berg’s spouse testify against her husband, but only to fill in the gaps on the family’s income that the rabbi could not answer.
Scaccetti, 36, stood and thanked the jurors as they left the courtroom. Bonavida said he was proud of his client for standing up for herself and filing a lawsuit, which he said will help others from suffering the same indignities she experienced from Berg.
Lawyers for Berg and the KCI declined to comment on the outcome of the case.
Scaccetti testified that she was a member of KCI in Los Angeles for six years and considered converting to Judaism after ending an abusive relationship with an ex-boyfriend.
She said she was in New York City on business the night of Oct. 25-26, 2012, when she agreed to meet Berg at his mother’s apartment, located in the Kabbalah Centre in that city.
Scaccetti said Berg plied her with alcohol and Vicodin to try and relax her so she would agree to have sex with him, and that he touched her leg and held her in a tight embrace.
She said she only took one of the Vicodin pills and put the rest in her pocket.
Scaccetti, who sued Berg and KCI in January 2014, said she rejected Berg’s 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. The former Catholic later left KCI and abandoned her plans to convert to Judaism.
Berg, in his testimony, admitted he was abusing drugs and alcohol at the time. He said he is recovering and left KCI in May 2014.
— Wire reports