Jury selection is scheduled to continue today in the personal injury case filed against former Saybrook College Master Antonio Lasaga and the city of New Haven by the family of the boy Lasaga sexually assaulted.
Lasaga pleaded no contest in 2002 to charges of assaulting the boy, who he met through a city mentoring program. Frederick Trotta, the attorney representing the victim’s family, said jury selection began Wednesday and testimony is expected to begin late next week.
Trotta said Lasaga decided not to defend the civil case, and the jury must only determine the damages he will be required to pay. Diane Polan, the New Haven attorney who has represented Lasaga in his criminal cases, said she is not handling the civil suit and would not comment on the trial.
Trotta said New Haven officials are defendants in the case because they introduced the victim to Lasaga through the mentoring program. Later, Trotta said, when the boy’s mother expressed concerns about Lasaga, a city social worker encouraged her to let him keep seeing the child.
Martin Echter, New Haven deputy corporate counsel, denied any wrongdoing on the part of the city.
“Professor Lasaga is a very bright man — who managed to fool a lot of people,” Echter said. “He’s just a smooth operator.”
Echter said the social worker did offer to help discuss a conflict between Lasaga and the boy’s mother. The dispute, however, concerned the mother not always being home when Lasaga tried to drop the child off.
“No one is saying, including the mother, that the social worker was told there was any suspicion of anything improper,” Echter said.
Echter said the mother continued to allow her child to see Lasaga for at least a year after the conflict.
The family of the victim hopes to recover damages for the physical and mental injury their son suffered, Trotta said. In Connecticut, plaintiffs do not specify the damages they hope to receive.
“If you have a broken arm and you miss two weeks of work, I can tell you how much that is worth,” Trotta said. “But this is a very difficult case to value.”
Lasaga’s legal bills have made him destitute, Trotta said, but any damages in the case could be collected after Lasaga is released from prison. Lasaga is currently serving a 15-year federal sentence for the possession and receipt of child pornography concurrently with a 20-year state sentence for the sexual assault.
“One year he will get out. I think he is a brilliant geophysicist and at some point he’ll be on someone’s payroll,” Trotta said. “And he won’t be working for a carwash.”
Trotta said the family is not looking for financial gain in the suit against Lasaga.
“I think the family is interested in justice,” Trotta said. “They would rather see him in jail until sometime in kingdom come than that they would see a dime.”
Yale was originally a co-defendant in the lawsuit, but the suit was withdrawn, University General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said in an e-mail. Robinson said it was possible one of the claims against Yale could be brought up in a new suit in the future. Trotta declined to say whether Yale would be a defendant in any further lawsuits, saying such decisions would be made in the coming weeks.