A mysterious young man from New Jersey might be able to run, but he can’t hide from a federal lawsuit seeking money damages for what he did to our client. That’s how a federal judge ruled, as the New York Law Journal reported last week.
Last October, our office filed a complaint in federal court alleging that Yosef Gerszberg had raped a 23-year-old actress the same night he met her at a dinner party on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Before filing the complaint, we mailed Mr. Gerszberg a copy with a letter suggesting that he hire a lawyer, have the lawyer call us, and try to settle the case before going to court. A lawyer did call us, outraged, and said he was going to “countersue” us and the victim for a litany of grievances. It seemed clear that Mr. Gerszberg did not want to settle, so we went ahead and filed the lawsuit.
But Mr. Gerszberg did not respond. He did not just blow a deadline, he tried to ignore the fact that he was being sued for a serious sexual assault. So we had the papers hand-delivered to his last-known address, in Englewood, New Jersey. It was a swanky house, where, it happened, a gentleman by the name of Seth Gerszberg also appeared to live. After the younger Mr. Gerszberg continued to ignore the lawsuit against him, Judge Richard Sullivan of the Southern District of New York set the case down for a “default hearing” — meaning a hearing to determine whether a judgment should be entered against the younger Mr. Gerzsberg for failing to respond to the lawsuit. But a middle-aged man appeared at the hearing and told the court he lives in the swanky house and that the defendant has not lived there in more than a year. The man’s name was Seth Gerzberg. He said he had two adoptive sons and both, in fact, were named Yosef Gerzberg. But one of them also went by the name of Surab Bilich, and that was the person named in the lawsuit. The other Yosef Gerszberg, Seth advised us, had nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, Seth did not know where young Surab/Yosef lived or where he worked. He did have a phone number and an email for the young man. Judge Sullivan ordered him to turn them over.
The email led back to a Google Plus account with a photo of Yosef Gerzsberg. We could confirm from the photo that it was the right guy. A day or two later, we emailed this particular Yosef Gerszberg. The email was returned undeliverable. The Google Plus page was gone. Yosef/Surab had disappeared from the internet.
That put us in an impossible position as attorneys for the alleged victim. Despite extensive searches and in-court testimony from the defendant’s apparent adoptive father (they may share a last name, sometime, but Seth testified that he had not legally adopted Yosef/Surab), we had no current address for either work or home, no valid email, and no way to find him. At the same time, we had received calls not only from a lawyer who once had represented him, but also from lawyers for Seth Gerszberg who said they might, possibly, one day represent him. So he was not entirely in the wind. And we had to turn to the court for help with a motion asking permission to use “alternative service.”
Judge Sullivan wrote a thoughtful opinion applying the standards for alternative service: he said that since we had exhausted other means, and service on Seth Gerszberg’s attorneys was likely sufficient to put the actual defendant on notice, all we had to do was get the papers to those attorneys and call the number we had for Yosef to let him know. We did that earlier this week. A lawyer for Seth Gerszberg, Daniel N. Epstein, told the Law Journal that “he took on Bilich as a client” after we filed an amended complaint that added “Surab Bilich” as an AKA for Yosef Gerszberg. Mr. Epstein has until early April to answer the accusations against his client. Running and hiding, it turns out, did not do Yosef Gerszberg/Surab Bilich much good after all.