Clarinetist gets $350K award over ex's 'reprehensible betrayal' in deleting prestigious scholarship offer
An Ontario woman’s “despicable interference” in her ex-boyfriend’s music career has earned a $350,000 judgment against her.
An Ontario Superior Court judge found that Jennifer Jooyeon Lee impersonated her then-boyfriend Eric Abramovitz by turning down an acceptance offer that would have landed him under the tutelage of a renowned clarinet teacher under a full two-year scholarship. She then deleted the emailed acceptance from his inbox.
Abramovitz wasn’t aware any of this had transpired until two years later and launched a civil action shortly after, in August 2016. Ontario Superior Court judge David Corbett called Lee’s actions a "reprehensible betrayal" in his judgment issued this week.
“It’s a unique case. I’m not familiar with anything quite like it,” Abramovitz’s Toronto lawyer Marshall Reinhart told CTVNews.ca Friday.
“We’re very pleased with the judgment. Eric has suffered significant financial loss and the loss of an opportunity. And aside from that, it’s been emotionally very difficult. This was a serious breach of trust from someone he was so close with.”
Lee, who has not responded to several court notices, was found in default in November 2016, which means a defendant “is deemed to admit the truth of all allegations of fact made in the statement of claim,” wrote Corbett.
Lee, who grew up in Ontario, and Abramovitz, a Quebec native, met in September 2013 while both were students at McGill University’s Schulich School of Music. According to the court judgment, their relationship progressed quickly, and by mid-October Abramovitz was staying at Lee’s apartment “virtually full time.”
Abramovitz applied to study at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles in December 2013, hoping to complete the final two years of his bachelors degree there. The school is prestigious and Abramovitz aspired to study under esteemed clarinet teacher Yehuda Gilad.
Gilad accepts only two new students per year from the dozens who apply. All Colburn students receive a full scholarship that covers tuition and room and board, along with a living stipend for meals and other expenses.
Abramovitz was invited to a live audition at Colburn on Feb. 20, 2014 and flew to Los Angeles with his parents. The audition was conducted before a committee of faculty, including Gilad. Abramovitz was told he could expect a decision by April 1, 2014.
The young clarinetist was sent an email on March 27, which told him he had been accepted and was being offered a full scholarship to study with Gilad. The court determined Lee accessed her boyfriend’s email – he had trusted her with his laptop and his passwords – and deleted the Colburn acceptance. But first she responded to it, in Abramovitz’s name, declining the offer because he would “be elsewhere.”
The court determined Lee established a fake email to make it appear it belonged to Gilad. She composed an email to Abramovitz saying he had not been accepted at Colburn but that he was being offered a position studying under Gilad at the University of Southern California with a scholarship of US$5,000 per year. Annual tuition at USC is about US$51,000.
“Ms. Lee knew about Mr. Abramovitz’s financial circumstances and that he would not be able to accept the fake offer she had created for a position at USC,” wrote Corbett. It appears, says the judge, she was motivated by her fear that Abramovitz would leave Montreal and their relationship.
Abramovitz, “completely taken in by this deception”, declined the offer by responding to the fake email address. He stayed in Montreal and completed his music degree at McGill. He and Lee broke up at some point, though he remained unaware of Lee’s deception. The truth unraveled when Abramovitz headed to USC for a two-year graduate certificate in performance at USC, where he did study with Gilad, and paid full tuition.
There, he was questioned about turning down the Colburn offer. He showed Gilad the rejection email he received, learning that the clarinet teacher had not sent it. With help of friends, he accessed the fake email account using a password he knew Lee used and discovered that her email address and phone number were connected to the account.
The clarinetist also discovered Lee similarly interfered with his acceptance to the Juilliard School in New York City.
Reinhart says the amount of the judgment is gratifying but his client was also seeking acknowledgement that what Lee did was wrong. He said it’s not clear where she is living but “every effort will be made to find her” and collect the awarded damages, including getting additional court orders.
She had been living in Toronto with her parents when not in school when she dated Abramovitz. Her common name is complicating matters, says Reinhart.
Abramovitz, who currently plays for the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, is joining the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in the fall. He wasn’t available for an interview Friday.
Corbett concurred with Abramovitz’s argument that his career path was knocked off course and delayed by Lee’s actions.
“I accept and find that Mr. Abramovitz lost a unique and prestigious educational opportunity, one that would have advanced his career as a professional clarinetist,” he wrote. He said imagining a different path for Abramovitz is difficult “(b)ut the law does recognize that the loss of a chance is a very real and compensable loss.”
In an affidavit to the court, Gilad wrote: “To sum up, I am very frustrated that a highly talented musician like Eric was the victim of such an unthinkable, immoral act that delayed his progress and advancement as an up-and-coming young musician and delayed his embarking on a most promising career.”
The plaintiff sought general damages of $300,000. The judge granted that, based on Abramovitz’s educational expenses and loss of two years’ of income. He tacked on an additional $25,000 in punitive damages to “address the reprehensible betrayal of trust by Ms. Lee” that “expresses this court’s revulsion at what Ms. Lee has done” and another $25,000 in aggravated damages, “representing the incompensable personal loss suffered by Mr. Abramovitz by having a closely held personal dream snatched from him by a person he trusted.”
Corbett also awarded $25,000 to cover legal costs.