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The Choirboy


In the absence of the prospect of a settlement, Greenblatt says, the school turned to charitable immunity, which, he maintains flatly, “doesn’t apply only to negligence.” Besides, he argues, the school can’t be held liable for Hanson’s private behavior—which he equates with an employee’s stopping in a bar after work and slugging someone in the mouth. “Is the company responsible?” he asks. “No. Why not? Because they’re not acting within the scope of employment.”

If the case does go to trial, Greenblatt clearly intends to wage an assault on Hardwicke’s credibility. “I don’t know where fact ends and fantasy begins with John,” he says. “I believe he was molested. I believe that molestation took place in private and that no one knew about it or reasonably should have known about it. However, of course, if he was being molested fifteen times a day in half of the rooms of the institution, it could create the implication that somebody should have known . . . So the more notorious it was, the better for his case.”

Yet despite Greenblatt’s assertions to the contrary, what shines through all the school’s dealings with Hardwicke is a stark unwillingness to countenance that the plaintiff might be telling the truth. “I don’t know a lot about what the school was like in 1970 and 1971,” Edwards says. “I do know that the kind of schedule we live with today doesn’t leave enough time for what John Hardwicke describes happened multiple times a day. That sort of thing—I just find it very hard to believe.”

The night before the state supreme-court argument, over dinner in Philadelphia, Lessig tells me he intends to describe obliquely, before the justices, the years-ago conversation in which Hanson said he needed to sexualize the boys for the sake of the choir’s splendor. “It shows, however ridiculous it is, that Hanson believes he’s doing this for the benefit of his employer,” Lessig explains. “So it makes the abuse within the scope of employment.

“Now, we don’t yet have that conversation in the record,” Lessig goes on, “and I’m in this weird position of knowing it. So we’re just going to simply say, look, we will establish at trial that fact. And they could say, how do you know you’re going to establish it at trial? And then I’m in this very awkward position of having to say why.”

And how do you intend to resolve that awkwardness? I ask.

Lessig says, “I don’t know.”

The next morning, at the supreme court, a windowless modern space with walls of marble and frosted glass, Greenblatt argues first. He is peppered with questions and seems at times unfamiliar with his own brief. After 35 minutes, Lessig rises to take his turn. At the podium, he reaches down for a paper cup; his hand quivers so violently that water spills en route to his lips.

Lessig speaks for only twenty minutes. He is rarely interrupted. The judges’ eyes widen when Lessig says that “between 30 and 50 percent of the boys at this school were sexually abused or harassed.” And they squirm in their chairs when Lessig—emboldened by the fact that a Piper Rudnick associate has found something in the record to support the Hanson revelation—announces, “It was the perversion of this music director . . . to believe that sexual abuse was part of producing a wonderful boychoir.”

When Lessig is done, Greenblatt, clearly irritated, stands up and offers his rebuttal. Of the Hanson revelation, he says, “How convenient . . . I know of no such fact.” And of the 30 to 50 percent figures, he continues, “[T]hat might be personal knowledge of Mr. Lessig, but it hasn’t been in the record of this case.”

Sitting in a high-backed chair, Lessig cringes as if he’s been stabbed in the stomach, glares at Greenblatt, and shakes his head. He’s just been outed in open court.

Afterward, Lessig, the Hardwickes, and the legal team drive to Princeton for lunch. While everyone believes that the argument went well, they are stunned by Greenblatt’s indiscretion. Walking into the lobby of the restaurant, a French place off Nassau Street, Lessig turns to his companions and says softly, “Hanson took me here for dinner.”

Later that afternoon, Lessig flies home to California, where he receives a barrage of vituperative faxes from Greenblatt—which the school’s lawyer has helpfully cc’d to the press. Greenblatt insists there’s nothing in the record to support Lessig’s surprise assertions. He makes repeated insinuations about Lessig’s “first-hand knowledge.” And, hurling charges of “mendacity,” he says that “Hanson surely would have been fired years earlier” had Lessig spoken out during his stint on the board.

A few weeks later, Greenblatt elaborates to me. “He had a responsibility not only to the children but to the school,” he says. “And if he had that knowledge, didn’t divulge it, and any child was injured thereafter by Hanson, then he bears that responsibility—and perhaps, just perhaps, that plays some part in his role in this matter.”

Lessig’s reaction to Greenblatt’s gambit is disgust mixed with shock and rage. In faxes of his own, Lessig calls his outing a “breach of a basic sense of decency” and professes to be “astonished” by Greenblatt’s “ignorance of the facts in this case.”

I ask Lessig about Greenblatt’s charge that by failing to expose Hanson earlier, he bears a measure of guilt.

“I do feel that,” Lessig says. “But I don’t suffer that feeling, because very quickly I recognize what it is to be a teenager.”

To Lessig, Greenblatt’s charge is a tawdry attempt to score points at the expense of his reputation. “Before this case, I never would’ve had a desire that the Boychoir School close,” Lessig says. “It’s an interesting place, it’s a great experience, it teaches kids to work hard. But the way I feel about it now is, fuck it. If they have to shut down because of this case, I don’t care.”

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