Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network. To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 492 3000.

Assaults, Threats And Bullying In Boston Schools – Will The Law Help? (Part One)

Yesterday, the Boston Globe’s front page reflected the start of a new series of articles on students, families and schools. It described the plight of Lexi, a 14-year-old girl who began classes at a new school in an “affluent suburb” west of Boston.

According to the story, Lexi’s torment began within the first few days, when a “friend” texted her the message, “Go online.”

“Online” being shorthand for “facebook”, Lexi went to the page to find pictures a girlfriend had taken a few months before of Lexi making faces at the camera. After the posting were a string of brilliant comments like, “You look like a rat that has been put on crack . . . in other words ugly as balls,” and ” hahaha”.

This was a terrific blow. After all, Lexi had realized that how she looked mattered a great deal in how she was or was not accepted. Now, there was a picture of her looking like a kid, neither polished nor particularly attractive..

“I knew from the beginning,” Lexi says now. “I knew it was basically everyone against me.”

Sure enough, in the months that followed, she was taunted at school. Boys called her foul names and girls snickered. Finally, the problem worsened as groups of students picked on her, surrounding her on the stairs or pushing her in the cafeteria. She even received threatening calls on her cell phone.

As the Globe points out, this school year trauma did not end in highly publicized prosecution and suicide.

However, the ordeal illustrates forms of bullying that are far more common, and is more instructive of the difficulties that school administrators, and kids, across the state are likely to face this fall as they try to comply with Massachusetts’ new antibullying law.

The new law, in almost as vague wording as possible, dictates that all schools develop procedures for dealing with bullies. Teachers must report bullying, parents must be informed of it, and principals must investigate.

The Globe points out that, despite the legislation, the torture did not stop in Lexi’s case. In fact, it escalated.

Indeed, what happened to Lexi over the course of those months, and the seeming ineffectiveness of the school’s responses, underscores the human complexity of problems lumped under the heading of bullying. They include subtleties not easily addressed by regulation – the difficulty of distinguishing routine conflicts from more destructive, ongoing harassment; the challenge of monitoring and controlling antagonism expressed over the Internet; and the tricky landscape of adolescent relationships.

Thank you!

Attorney Sam’s Take:

A week ago, I explained to you that I was starting a major trial, but was looking to post a series of “confessions of a former prosecutor” through the course of the week. The good news is that we won the child rape, a “life felony“, trial. The bad news is that the series never got posted.

With all due respect, it is a compromise I can live with. I can post that material another time. My client only has this one life (as far as we know).

But certain things, like the issue of bullying, never seem to end. Believe it or not, that, in itself, is progress. Perhaps, with the help of articles like the one appearing in the Boston Globe, we will not fall for the illusion painted by our political and legal leaders that the problem has been solved. It has not been. It has really just begun.

If the goal is to change the status quo of this issue that has long plagued us, then this is a key summer and next fall, the start of a critical year.

We know that many crimes occur in schools today. Many of them have been there a long time. It will likely not surprise you to hear that there are drugs, weapons and alcohol being possessed by minors at and around school. As Lexi’s story presents, there are assaults, harassment and cyber-crimes also taking place. We already have criminal justice solutions for these clearly defined crimes. It is called “prosecution” and it takes place in juvenile court. This, too, is in bad need for reform, but such is an issue for another day.

The problem with bullying is that, as the Globe points out in its article, as have I in past blogs on the subject , it is a problem of nuances.

A spanking new statute, which our legislators proclaim heroically to be the strongest in the land, the most specified solution in which being the advent of “No Name Calling Day”, does not solve the problem. It may, however, be a beginning.

Over the summer, the educators will have to meet and ponder how to address the issue. One would hope that they will retain the services of folks in the legal community. However, if they want to really address the problem, they will have to include lawyers who are not simply hired to protect them from liability. If that is what they plant to do, let me save them the trouble…the safest road is to simply turn every kid over to the police and let them make the decision and take the responsibility. The decision by law enforcement, of course, will be to bring the matter to court and let it take the heat..

If , however, you wish to treat the students like developing human beings, and not hot potatoes, I would suggest bringing in some lawyers with experience in criminal law as well. Otherwise, the only problem you are likely to solve is that of unemployment. After all, since we will have an upsurge in kids with criminal records who will be unemployable, there will be more jobs open for everyone else…should anyone else of that generation be left.

“Ok, Sam, what do you suggest to be the right approach?”

The solution is not going to be simple and, as intelligent as I try to be, I do not have all the answers. However, perhaps together, we do.

Let’s look a bit further into the issue this week, shall we?

In the meantime, of course, if you wish to discuss such a matter with me, please feel free to contact me at 617-492-3000.

To find the original stories upon which this story is based, please go to http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/06/20/the_agony_of_a_girl_who_just_wanted_to_fit_in/?p1=Well_MostPop_Emailed2

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