Judge deals ‘small victory’ to ex-Maine West coach in hazing lawsuit
BY BECKY SCHLIKERMAN AND JON SEIDEL Staff Reporters October 15, 2013 5:50PM
Former Maine West Coach Michael Divincenzo, pictured in the high school's 2010 yearbook. | Sun-Times files
Updated: November 17, 2013 6:30AM
A Cook County judge Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit that claimed Maine West High School athletes were sexually assaulted by teammates under the guise of hazing, court records show.
But Cook County Associate Judge Daniel Gillespie is giving the alleged victims and their lawyer an opportunity to file an amended complaint.
The defendants — including Maine Township High School District 207, the school principal and two former coaches — had sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, according to a statement from the school district.
Tuesday’s ruling “focused on the plaintiffs’ failure to allege facts sufficient to permit the lawsuit to go forward,” the school district said in a statement. According to the judge’s written order, the suit was dismissed without prejudice.
Tony Romanucci, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit on behalf of four unnamed John Does, called the judge’s order “a technical ruling, as opposed to a substantive one” and vowed to keep fighting by filing an amended complaint that will make the case “stronger than ever.”
But Ken Wallace, the district’s superintendent, said, “We are pleased with the ruling, especially in light of what the district regards as the exaggerated claims asserted by plaintiff’s attorney in the media.”
Mike Kujawa, the attorney for former Maine West soccer coach Michael Divincenzo, called the judge’s ruling a “small victory,” but agreed the case will continue on.
Romanucci said the judge took issue with the allegations related to Maine West Principal Audrey Haugan and the Maine Township school board — not former coaches Divincenzo and Emilio Rodriguez. Both coaches lost their jobs at Maine West. Rodriguez did not respond to a request for comment.
Romanucci has until next month to file amended lawsuit, court records show.
The suit that was dismissed was filed last November. Another alleged victim, the fifth one, came forward in August 2013 and claimed in a separate lawsuit that he was sexually assaulted Sept. 26, 2012, at the school in Des Plaines after the coaches ordered the team to do a “campus run.”
The school district said the second lawsuit wasn’t up in court Tuesday, but it’s expected to “be consolidated with the first lawsuit if an amended complaint is filed.”
The district will continue to fight that August suit or any amended lawsuit that is filed, it said.
Also on Tuesday, Divincenzo learned his trial date would be Dec. 17. The 37-year-old has been charged with misdemeanor battery, hazing and failure to report abuse in connection with the hazing scandal.