In one of the first court appearances since Evanston Township High School alumni filed civil lawsuits against their former theater teacher, a defense attorney asked for more time Thursday to prepare the cases.
Three former students who graduated from the high school over three decades ago are each suing retired ETHS theater teacher Bruce Siewerth, alleging that he sexually abused them while they were his students in the theater classes and productions.
“They [the school and school district] don’t have records from 1970 in the same quantities that they have from the 2000s,” Attorney Stephen Komie said about why he needs more time to prepare his defense.
Komie, of Chicago law firm Komie and Associates, is representing Siewerth in all three lawsuits.
“We have to look for records in storage, dusty old moribund warehouses,” he said.
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Christopher Lawler heard the two cases filed by plaintiffs John Doe 1 and Daniel Romain.
Judge John Callahan Jr. heard the third case, filed by John Doe 2.
All of the cases were heard in a Daley Center courtroom in downtown Chicago. And the judges approved each of the extension requests.
Attorney Mike Mertz, who represents the plaintiffs, said he did not dispute the extension request.
“This is a routine, procedural motion,” Mertz said. Siewerth’s attorneys need to “investigate their defense and locate documents.”
Attorneys for the high school, ETHS District 202 and its school board – each also named as defendants in the lawsuits – were not present in court Thursday.
Additionally, neither Siewerth nor any of the three plaintiffs appeared.
Komie said the myriad documents he may be trying to access include copies of old ETHS teachers’ union contracts from the years the abuse allegedly happened. Depending on conditions in the contract, attorneys representing the high school, board of education and the school district could be required to represent Siewerth as well, the attorney explained.
So far, the retired teacher has retained his own, separate counsel.
“The contracts that existed at the time have to be examined,” Komie said. “There may be a duty to defend.”
Siewerth is named in three lawsuits, two filed in October and one in November, all by the former students who allege he molested male students during his teaching tenure from 1965 to 1999.
According to the lawsuits and student allegations, Siewerth requested sexual favors from boys in exchange for starring roles in school productions. Other alleged acts include the teacher touching boys’ genitals, wrestling with them backstage, taking them to see “hardcore gay pornography” on class trips to New York and other incidents, according to the lawsuits.
The two alumni who filed their lawsuits as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 graduated from ETHS in 1979 and 1980, according to the civil complaints. Romain, the third plaintiff, graduated in 1985.
Allegations of Siewerth’s sexual misconduct surfaced on Facebook in October, days before ETHS was to host a tribute to its popular student variety show. School officials said Siewerth had bought a ticket to the tribute show, prompting the issuance of a no-trespassing letter to Siewerth. It banned him from the school campus and ETHS-sanctioned events.
Evanston police on Oct. 12 confirmed they were investigating the allegations after being contacted by school officials following the Facebook post. Since then, police said they have received dozens of calls from former students about the teacher and are working with those interested in filing reports.
Siewerth has not been charged with a crime. Reached by phone in October, Siewerth denied the allegations.