A jury in San Jose, California, found that a group of young girls falsely accused gym teacher John Fischler of being what they called a "perv" and peeking in on them in the bathroom.

The three girls and four of their parents have been ordered to pay Fischler $362,653 in compensatory damages. One of the girls, now 14 years old, whom Fischler described as having a "gang-leader-like personality," may also have to pay punitive damages, as she was seen as the ringleader of the group. The jury also did not seem like the way the girl behaved when she testified, giggling repeatedly and even leaving the witness stand twice to perform school chants and dance moves.

Fischler's lawyer, Robert Vantress, called the verdict a "complete vindication." Outside the courtroom, Fischler spoke to reporters, saying, "I'm grateful the jury was able to see through the smoke screen and the truth came out. ... There's always going to be a scar. But the jury saw through the deception."

The lawyer for the girls and their parents, Lee J. Danforth, warned that the outcome could lead to fewer children reporting incidents of abuse. "If this trial prevents one little girl or one mother or father from reporting suspected abuse, then this is profoundly sad for our society," he said.

The case, which began in 2011, now heads into the punitive-damages stage. Fischler, who had been seeking $1 million, was offered his job back at Holy Spirit school a while ago, after police and school officials had cleared him of any wrongdoing. But he turned it down, saying the charges against him had created a poisonous atmosphere and permanently ruined his reputation as a teacher.

Fischler's son still attends the same school as the ringleader girl, though, which means the aftereffects of the jury's decision could linger for quite some time.

[Mercury News]