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Ex-Mass. AG to lead sex abuse probe at R.I. school

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Former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger in 2009.
Former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger in 2009.(Steven Senne)

Former Massachusetts attorney general Scott Harshbarger was named Monday to oversee a new investigation of the embattled St. George's School, which has been mired in a sex abuse scandal dating to the 1970s. Harshbarger, 74, was appointed after a daylong meeting between representatives of the victims and the board of trustees of the Middletown, R.I., prep school.

The two sides also agreed that Day One of Rhode Island, a nonprofit organization that provides help for victims of trauma, will provide assistance to victims of sex abuse at the school, which will pay for the services. The payments will be handled by an independent third-party administrator and the names of alumni receiving mental health assistance will not be released to the school, according to the statement.

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Since December, accounts of sexual abuse at St. George's have mushroomed, with more than 40 alumni saying they were abused at the school, mostly in the 1970s and 1980s. Both the school and the victims' attorneys say there were at least nine staff or student perpetrators.

Monday's announcement was made by Leslie Heaney, chairwoman of the school's board of trustees, and Anne Scott, who spoke on behalf of SGS for Healing, a group of victims and other alumni. "These preliminary agreements represent further progress for alumni victims," Scott said in a statement.

Scott and other reporters of abuse had questioned the independence of the school's first investigator, Will Hannum, the law partner and husband of St. George's legal counsel. That led to the selection of Harshbarger.

Heaney said the school "is committed to the truth and supporting alumni survivors who have been harmed by sexual abuse."

A graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law School, Harshbarger left the attorney general's post in 1999 to become the chief executive of Common Cause in Washington, D.C. After a decade in the Boston office of the New York firm of Proskauer Rose, where he chaired its national pro bono initiative, he recently joined the smaller firm of Casner & Edwards as senior counsel.

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In recent years, Harshbarger has been called on to investigate corruption and recommend reforms, including heading a commission on prison reform under Governor Mitt Romney. He advised the state courts on how to recover from the patronage scandal in the Probation Department that led to the indictment of the former commissioner.


Bella English can be reached at english@globe.com.