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Judge Orders Mental Competence Exam for Norman Lamm in Y.U. Sex Abuse Suit

A federal judge has ordered an independent medical examination of the mental health of Rabbi Norman Lamm, Yeshiva University’s former president, in the opening stages of a $380 million sex abuse lawsuit.

Judge John Koeltl ordered a medical evaluation of Lamm as early as next week, during a pretrial hearing in U.S. District Court on September 9.

The order came in response to claims by Lamm’s lawyer, Joel Cohen, that Lamm is unfit to be deposed in the lawsuit because he is suffering from dementia.

Lamm, perhaps the most revered living rabbi in Modern Orthodox Judaism, was president of Y.U. from 1976 to 2003, a period when dozens of students at Y.U.-run schools are alleged to have been abused.

Lamm retired as chancellor of Y.U. in July, when his compensation was about $500,000 a year.

In an interview with the Forward last December, Lamm said that he dealt with credible allegations of improper behavior against staff by quietly allowing them to leave and find jobs elsewhere.

A subsequent investigation commissioned by Y.U. found that until 2001, “there were multiple instances in which the University either failed to appropriately act to protect the safety of its students or did not respond to the allegations at all.”

New York’s statute of limitations prevents abuse victims bringing claims after they turn 23. The former high school students’ lawyers argue that the statute of limitations does not apply in this case, because Y.U. fraudulently covered up the abuse.

Lawyers for both sides are expected to argue about whether the case ought to be dismissed over the next few months. In the meantime, lawyers for the alleged victims say they want to interview Lamm as soon as possible, in case his mental health deteriorates.

But Lamm’s lawyer, Cohen, said Lamm’s mental health has already deteriorated too far.

He said Lamm’s physician and a forensic neuropsychologist from Weill Cornell Medical College, believe that Lamm’s testimony would be “significantly impaired by cognitive impairment.”

Cohen said that he had personally interviewed Lamm about “significant facts” related to the claims of abuse at Y.U. and that on two occasions Lamm had answered incorrectly, including one fact “that occurred a few months ago.” Judge John Koeltl said that he wanted an independent evaluation of Lamm’s mental health.

Koeltl said he wanted to make sure that Lamm’s testimony would be reliable and that being deposed would not traumatize Lamm or “bring on untoward medical consequences.”

Koeltl added that if the independent evaluation finds that Lamm is in a fit mental state to be deposed then he would be “inclined to grant the request.”

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter @pdberger

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