The parents of four former preschoolers at the closed Bo Peep Day Nursery in Bel Air dropped their civil suit against its operators yesterday -- saying they have run out of money -- and thus ended a four-year battle over allegations that children were sexually abused there.
Attorneys Nevett Steele Jr. and John S. Karas filed motions in Harford County Circuit Court to dismiss the parents' complaints against Deborah Cassilly, former operator of the nursery, as well as her husband Patrick and former teachers Rita Blevins and Martha Scarborough.
"It's because of a lack of money. It's not for a lack of merits in the case," said Mr. Steele, who has represented the group of parents since 1987.
Attorneys for Bo Peep, the former nursery's employees and a vocal group of parents supporting Ms. Cassilly and her nursery all have consistently denied any wrongdoing, suggesting instead that the children who showed physical injuries were assaulted at home, while others were encouraged to spin false stories.
"My own personal opinion is there was no substance to the allegations," said Russell J. White, an attorney for the firm of White and Karceski who represented the Cassillys.
Mr. Steele said the decision was reached by his clients late last week after notice was filed by Whiteford, Taylor & Preston, the Towson law firm Mr. Steele recently left to start his own practice, that it would no longer be representing any of the parents.
Mr. Steele said yesterday that he, Mr. Karas and their clients could not afford the $50,000 required for depositions, expert witness fees, fees for private investigators and other legal costs if the case continued.
"There are significant debts involved here already that cannot be paid," he said, but declined to elaborate.
The civil suit filed last summer includes 18 counts, ranging from negligence to assault, failure to report abuse, improper training of staff, and contempt of a 1987 court order barring males from the premises.
It cited evidence of physical and sexual abuse of the children that surfaced in state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene hearings that led to the center losing its license in November 1989.
Mr. Steele said that because of the three-year statute of limitations on civil suits, the parents could not file any further suits. But he said any of the children, who are now about 7, could file suit within three years of turning 18.
But the attorneys for the Cassillys insisted yesterday that there has never been a believable case against the Bo Peep staff.
Mr. White said his clients consistently rejected offers by the plaintiffs to settle the case because they felt so strongly they had done nothing wrong.
"Her [Mrs. Cassilly's] position all along was that this whole thing was a sham," the lawyer said.
Mrs. Cassilly was unavailable yesterday, but her mother, Sherrie Smith, said the whole family was relieved that the case has ended.
"They're not guilty, they never have been. The whole thing's been a lie," she said. "My family's been through heck with this."
The filing of the motions ends legal battles, criminal investigations and state administrative hearings that go back to the spring of 1987, when the first allegations surfaced and the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene suspended Bo Peep's license.
The day nursery remained open until November 1989, when the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld the state order to close it, based upon the finding by a hearing officer that at least eight children, most of them girls ages 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 , had been physically and sexually abused.
In testimony in court and at the licensing hearings, parents and therapists recounted nightmares, drawings, behavioral changes and fears that ranged from silly to chilling, while two pediatricians described anal and genital injuries to some of the children.
A criminal investigation into allegations of child abuse was transferred to Baltimore County because the Harford County state's attorney, Joseph I. Cassilly, is a cousin and close friend of owner Patrick Cassilly.
But no criminal charges were ever filed and a spokesman for the Baltimore County state's attorney said yesterday that the matter is an inactive case, which means it is no longer being investigated.