McGill University music student Eric Abramovitz studied with some of the country's elite teachers from the age of 7. Marie-France Coallier / Montreal Gazette
McGill University music student Eric Abramovitz was among the top clarinetists in Canada. He studied with some of the country's elite teachers from the age of seven. He won first prize at the Canadian Music Competition six times. He was a featured soloist with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestre symphonique de Québec.
In late 2013, Abramovitz applied for a full two-year scholarship to complete his bachelor's degree at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles. Every student at Colburn receives a full scholarship, including tuition, room and board as well as money for meals and other expenses, worth roughly $50,000 a year.
If accepted, he would study under Yehuda Gilad, considered one of the best clarinet teachers on the planet. Gilad accepts two students a year out of dozens of applicants. To be chosen is virtually a guarantee of a high-paying symphony career directly out of college. After an exhaustive pre-screening process, Abramovitz flew to Los Angeles in February 2014 with his parents to do a live audition before Gilad and a committee of faculty members.
A month later, Colburn sent an email to Abramovitz. He had been chosen.
Except Abramovitz never got the email. Jennifer Lee, a fellow McGill music student and Abramovitz's girlfriend at the time, did. They had started dating in September 2013, and within a month he was staying at her apartment almost full time. He trusted her. He let her use his laptop. He gave her his passwords.
Scared he would move away and perhaps no longer be in a relationship with her, Lee deleted the email. She sent the Colburn Conservatory of Music an email, pretending to be Abramovitz, refusing the offer because he would "be elsewhere."
She sent Abramovitz an email pretending to be Yehuda Gilad, under a new address she apparently established herself, email@example.com, saying Abramovitz had not been accepted for a scholarship at Colburn. Writing as Gilad, she told Abramovitz he was offered a position to study at the University of Southern California with a scholarship of $5,000 a year. Annual tuition at USC is $51,000, a cost she knew Abramovitz could not afford.
Abramovitz was completely taken in. He lost his two-year scholarship opportunity to study with Gilad. He completed his studies at McGill, and then did a two-year certificate program at USC, not on scholarship, where he got to study part-time under Gilad.
Abramovitz learned of the deception two years later, and he sued for $300,000 in general damages, including for loss of reputation, loss of educational opportunity and loss of two years of income potential.
On Wednesday, Ontario Superior Court judge David L. Corbett ruled in his favour, and added $50,000 "against Ms. Lee for her despicable interference in Mr. Abramovitz's career."
The case was heard in Ontario because Lee is a resident there.
"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," Corbett wrote. "It is difficult to quantify such a loss. Mr Abramovitz's life and career have continued. Imagining how his life would have been different if he had studied for two years under Mr. Gilad, and earned his teacher's respect and support, requires more speculation than the law permits. One hears ... of the 'big breaks' that can launch a promising artist to a stratospheric career.
"I cannot speculate as to how high and how quickly Mr. Abramovitz's career might have soared, but for the interference by Ms. Lee. But the law does recognize that the loss of a chance is a very real and compensable loss."
The judge found that the lost two years in scholarship was worth $50,000 a year. The cost of the two years Abramovitz studied under the certificate program at USC was estimated at $50,000 for tuition and another $30,000 in living expenses. Based on testimony from Gilad, who noted that Abramovitz won numerous competitions in his first five months in Los Angeles and secured a position in the Santa Barbara Orchestra, Corbett agreed he had lost out on two years of potential salary because of his girlfriend's deceit, worth $71,500 U.S. a year.
"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," Gilad wrote.
Corbett agreed to Abramovitz's claim for damages of $300,000 Canadian. To that he added $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.
"The general damages reflect financial losses; the aggravated damages are modest recognition of the anguish and hurt that has cost Mr. Abramovitz no money, but which has nonetheless hurt him." Another $25,000 was charged to cover court costs and legal fees.
Abramovitz earned a position with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. Last March, it was announced he was appointed associate principal clarinet of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
His former girlfriend never responded to the statement of claim against her, never filed a notice of intent to defend or a statement of defence, and thus was noted in default.
"A defendant who has been noted in default is deemed to admit the truth of all allegations made in the statement of claim," the judgment explained.
"This award expresses the court's revulsion at what Ms. Lee has done," Judge Corbett wrote in his summation.