The former co-director of Kabbalah Centre International plied a student with Vicodin and alcohol, then inappropriately touched her and tried to have sex with her, an attorney told a jury Tuesday.
Addressing a Los Angeles Superior Court jury hearing opening statements in trial of Jena Scaccetti’s lawsuit, lawyer Alain Bonavida said Rabbi Yehuda Berg’s intentions were clear.
“She’s alleging in this case he attempted to rape her,” he said.
But Berg’s attorney, John Cline, said his client mistakenly believed Scaccetti wanted to have sex.
“He made an awkward, inappropriate advance and she said no,” Cline said. “He stopped and she sued him 14 months later.”
Berg had been drinking that evening and was intoxicated when the incident occurred, Cline said.
“There is no doubt what Mr. Berg did dishonored his wife, the advance he made was inappropriate,” Cline said.
Cline said Scaccetti and Berg both had kidney stones and that the plaintiff accepted Berg’s offer of a Vicodin pill for her problem, as well as one drink. She agreed to meet with him at the apartment where he was staying that night, Cline said.
Lawyer Jonathan Bach, on behalf of the Kabbalah Centre, said his clients bear no liability for what may have happened between Berg and Scaccetti.
“They are trying to blame us for something we had nothing to do with,” Bach said. “This was not a Kabbalah Centre event.”
Berg is the author of about 30 books, including “The Power of Kabbalah” and “The 72 Names of God.” His father, Rav Berg, and brother, Michael Berg, also taught at the Los Angeles center, where Madonna, Ashton Kutcher and other celebrities have studied.
Bonavida said Scacetti studied at the Kabbalah Centre for about six years and that Berg was helping her convert to Judaism.
“She was told what she should do, when she should do it … to the point where it became her life,” Bonavida said.
The incident with Berg occurred the night of Oct. 25-26, 2012, Bonavida said.
“This is not an easy subject to hear about,” Bonavida said.
Berg, the trial’s first witness, admitted he was addicted to “anything that can make you high or drunk.”
He said he started abusing alcohol and drugs in 2004 after his father, who he considered his mentor and best friend, suffered a stroke.
“When he had his stroke, it devastated my life,” he said.
Berg said he managed to perform his duties and write books despite his addictions.
“I was a very high-functioning stone person,” Berg said. “No one would know I was high but me.”
Berg said he left the Kabbalah Centre in May 2014 because of his addictions.