"I told her that, to be truthful above all else," Mark A. Schweikert said to his client before she took the stand, adding that through the course of questioning, “you would see that emotion bubble up within her.”
A jury awarded the client of two South Florida attorneys a multimillion-dollar verdict in federal court in Miami, validating their litigation strategy.
And part of that strategy involved Mark A. Schweikert and Jason B. Sherry, solo practitioners based in Miami, putting client Jane Doe—one of the students who alleged a former Miami Palmetto Senior High teacher sexually abused her—on the stand for emotional testimony.
“I told her that, to be truthful above all else,” Schweikert said. “We had to touch upon some very dark subjects, but we did so in a way that was sensitive to who she is today. Of course, just through the general course of questioning, you would see that emotion bubble up within her. She was so powerful when she spoke.”
Schweikert faced off against Sheila Mae Gonzales, a partner at Cole Scott & Kissane in Miami, who represented the School Board of Miami-Dade County in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
At the center of this case is Jason Meyers, who now faces three felony charges.
Meyers, 46, taught classes in creative writing at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School for nearly a decade, during which multiple students accused the teacher of having sex with students, according to court documents.
Then, Meyers transferred to Palmetto and built a reputation among the facility for his sexual exploits among a group of female students who would frequently meet one on one with him in his classroom, according to court documents. Administrators and staff began referring to them as “Jason’s girls.”
Schweikert said a lot of his strategy involved following up on the alleged failures of the school districts to conduct what he characterized as “a reasonable investigation,” and alleged failure to discipline Meyers.
He added that one of the most challenging moments during the litigation was when Doe, 23, took the stand in the trial and spoke about the traumatic events that happened to her when Meyers allegedly groomed the then 16-or-17-year-old to have sex on campus.
‘No one was interested in hearing his side’
The jury awarded Doe $3 million in past and $3 million in future damages for pain and suffering, finding that the school board had actual notice that Meyers posed a substantial risk of sexual abuse or harassment, and the defendant was deliberately indifferent in response to the actual notice.
The jurors deliberated for less than two hours to reach the verdict. And the $6 million jury award tacks on to the financial fallout stemming from an earlier settlement for $1.1 million reached with a second former student of Meyers.
Gonzales did not respond to whether her client will file an appeal to the federal trial court ruling.
“The school systems, in general, are broken,” Schweikert said. “Just Google ‘sexual abuse by a teacher,’ and there’s been a long list of incidents just like this. Teachers working in the schools, schools getting multiple complaints and never really doing anything to address the allegations.”
The multimillion-dollar verdict comes after Miami-Dade County Public Schools paid $8.7 million in a settlement in March 2020 to five victims of rape by a physical education teacher, Wendell Nibbs, formerly employed at Brownsville Middle School. Nibbs is serving eight years in prison.
Meyers, awaiting trial in the Miami-Dade Circuit Court on three felony counts of engaging in sex with a minor, has seen his criminal case pending for more than five years due to the coronavirus pandemic and his change of counsel.
Bradley Horenstein, a solo practitioner based in Miami representing Meyers in criminal court, is confident that his client will beat the charges.
“No one was interested in hearing his side of the story in that civil case,” Horenstein said in an email on Tuesday. “Jason Meyers is innocent. Looking forward to our day in court.”
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