The Bay Shore school district spent over $600,000 after it was accused of mishandling sexual abuse allegations against since-retired third-grade teacher Thomas Bernagozzi. Credit: Newsday Studio

The Bay Shore school district has compiled more than $600,000 in legal bills defending claims the school system mishandled sexual abuse allegations against a retired third grade teacher that span three decades, records show.

Facing 45 lawsuits filed under the Child Victims Act, Bay Shore received invoices totaling $593,645 from Ingerman Smith LLP, an education law firm based in Hauppauge, and $21,965 from Silverman & Associates, a White Plains firm that focuses on litigation.

The school district provided the law firms' invoices to Newsday in response to a Freedom of Information Law request.

In a statement, Bay Shore Superintendent Steven Maloney said Wednesday: “The legal fees represent the Bay Shore Union Free School District's response to those cases commenced under the Child Victims Act during the last four years.”

The 45 lawsuits by former Bay Shore students, filed between July 2020 and August 2021, accuse the district of failing to protect them from allegedly suffering sexual abuse by teacher Thomas Bernagozzi when they were between the ages of 4 and 12. The district has sued Bernagozzi in each case, arguing he should be held responsible instead of the school system. Bernagozzi, 75, retired in 2000.

Suffolk police arrested Bernagozzi at his Babylon home in December. He pleaded not guilty to separate charges of sodomy regarding one former student and sexual conduct against a child involving another former student. His attorney, Samuel DiMeglio, has said in court that Bernagozzi “vehemently denies the allegations.”

Bernagozzi, who is free on $600,000 bond and facing up to 25 years in prison on each charge, is due in Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on Thursday. 

Bay Shore's legal invoices from Ingerman Smith, which also serves as the district’s general counsel, span from September 2020 until early January. The line items for the firm's Child Victims Act work are mixed in with other legal work on student placement, contractual advice and correspondence with the state education commissioner's office.

Bay Shore’s board of education appointed Silverman & Associates in January as special counsel in 11 of the 45 cases. That firm's invoices, provided to Newsday, are current through this month.

Bay Shore also is in dispute in court with insurance companies in 11 of the 45 cases over the extent of their coverage. The district’s legal bills associated with those cases are not known.

A Newsday investigation last month found that while Bay Shore district officials knew of at least five alleged incidents in his 30 years of teaching, they never moved to fire Bernagozzi.

The Child Victims Act, signed into law in 2019, opened a temporary window for alleged victims of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits seeking damages. Before the law's passage, survivors were prevented from filing suit once they turned 23. The window to file claims closed in 2021.

Long Island districts have paid $31.8 million to settle 44 lawsuits, according to a Newsday investigation, with more than 100 cases still making their way through the court system.

Only one Child Victims Act lawsuit against a Long Island school district went to a jury which rendered a verdict. A Nassau County jury last month found the Herricks school district wasn't negligent in a case involving a former student who said he was sexually abused by a school psychologist in the late 1980s.

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