December 11, 2019

JCC Subject of Lawsuit

The parents of a boy badly wounded during a shooting rampage at the North Valley Jewish Community Center are suing the facility and charging that it did not provide any security to forestall hate crime attacks.

Charles and Eleanor Kadish filed the suit Monday on behalf of their son Benjamin, who sustained the most critical injuries among the five persons shot by Buford O. Furrow Jr., an avowed white supremacist.

Benjamin, who was 5 when the shooting occurred on Aug. 10, 1999, continues to bear the scars of the assault on his abdomen, buttocks and legs, as well as suffering continuing emotional trauma, the suit claims.

The suit’s charges were rejected by Nina Lieberman Giladi, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles.

"We are not responsible, directly and indirectly, for the crimes committed by Mr. Furrow and the injuries he inflicted," she said. "We cannot be responsible for the unpredictable act of a madman. We firmly believe that the lawsuit is not appropriate."

After the shooting spree at the center, Furrow killed a Filipino American letter-carrier. He pleaded guilty in March and is serving two life sentences.

Another knowledgeable community center source, who did not wish to be identified, said, "I don’t think it is possible for any Jewish organization to anticipate such a hate crime, and I’m not sure what would have constituted enough security to prevent it."

The suit was filed on behalf of the Kadish family in Los Angeles Superior Court by attorney Joseph M. Lovretovich. In a 12-page brief and during a phone interview, he claimed that Furrow targeted the North Valley JCC because it lacked security.

"Furrow admitted that he stalked three other Jewish institutions as possible targets but passed them up because security was too tight," said Lovretovich. "Furrow was not on a suicide mission. It seems almost like all the circumstances funneled Furrow directly to the North Valley center."

The suits seeks compensation for Benjamin, who still walks with a limp and requires continuing psychological counseling; his older brother Joshua, who was at the center during the shooting but was not wounded; and the Kadish parents.

The amount of damages is not specified but will include the cost of medical bills, which Lovretovich estimates as close to $500,000, and loss of income by the parents, both self-employed, of about $80,000. Also sought are compensation for pain, suffering and emotional distress of all family members.

So far as can be determined, none of the other four victims of the shooting — two other young boys, a teenage counselor, and an adult receptionist — are filing suits, although Lieberman Giladi said she could not comment on that point.

Alan Stepakoff, whose son Joshua was wounded in the shooting, said he would not sue the JCC. Asked his opinion of the Kadish suit, he said, "I have no comment that I would like to see in print."

None of the involved parties would respond to a question as to whether any attempt had been made to settle the matter out of court.

Named as defendants in the suit are the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles, which supervises eight local centers and related programs, the North Valley JCC and the West Valley JCC.

The last center was included because the Kadishes originally enrolled their two sons at the West Valley center, said Lovretovich. When no program adequate for Benjamin could be found at that location, both boys were bused daily from the West Valley to the North Valley center.

The JCCs are partially supported by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Its spokesman, Craig Prizant, said that he could not comment on pending legislation but felt that the JCC "bears no responsibility for Furrow’s violent act."

Valley Editor Wendy J. Madnick contributed to this story.