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Jewish Family That Was Harassed Gets $1.8 Million Under Hate Law

April 3, 1991
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A Chicago family has been awarded $1.8 million in what is believed to be the largest-ever judgment in a case brought under a state hate crime statute.

After a six-day trial and three-and-a-half hours of deliberation, a Cook County jury ordered Lucielle Olsen and her adult son, Neil Olsen, to pay $1.8 million to their victims, Sherry Del Dotto, her husband, Larry Del Dotto, and their two daughters, ages 7 and 5.

The judgment was handed down March 27.

Sherry Del Dotto, who is Jewish, and her husband, who is Roman Catholic, filed the civil lawsuit against their former next-door neighbors in 1985 after they had been harassed for more than a year.

In June 1986, the Del Dottos moved to a different Chicago neighborhood in order to escape the hectoring. Today they live in fear that the Olsens will find out where they live.

“I am very afraid,” Sherry Del Dotto said in a telephone interview arranged by her lawyer.

“I had to leave for the safety of my family,” she said. “I didn’t want my kids living next door to this kind of garbage.”

The Olsens had repeatedly harassed the Del Dottos with anti-Jewish statements, white supremacist slogans and threats of physical violence. Both followed Sherry Del Dotto down the street, calling her names and spitting at her.

In August 1984, both Lucielle and Neil Olsen were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and convicted in January 1985 for playing music so loudly that the Del Dotto’s older daughter, who was then a toddler, was unable to sleep.

Neil Olsen was arrested again in August 1985 and convicted the following January of disorderly conduct after he painted anti-Semitic and other racist epithets on a car that he had parked in front of the Del Dottos’ residence for six months, according to Richard Hoffman, the Del Dottos’ attorney.

Sherry Del Dotto originally sought the assistance of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith in 1985. At ADL’s request, the Chicago law firm of Sonnenschein, Nath and Rosenthal represented the Del Dottos pro bono.


Lucielle Olsen, who is in her 70s, and Neil Olsen, who is in his mid-40s, are reportedly not well-to-do and are not expected to be able to pay the bulk of the damages. They are not affiliated with a hate group, according to Hoffman.

“They are just backyard bigots, as far as I know,” he said.

The $1.8 million judgment is the largest-known verdict to date in a lawsuit brought under Illinois’ hate crimes statute and may well be the largest award in any suit of its kind in the nation, say ADL officials.

Sixteen or 17 states have hate crimes laws that provide for victims of hate crimes to bring civil lawsuits against the perpetrators, according to Steven Freeman, ADL director of legal affairs.

While in the absence of such laws victims are able to file a civil suit, these statutes make it easier for them to do so, he said.

There have not been very many large verdicts in cases like the Del Dottos’ before, according to Freeman, because the statutes which make them possible have only been added to the law-books within the past decade in many states.

The size of the verdict is “a strong indication of the seriousness with which these kinds of events are judged,” said Barry Morrison, director of ADL’s Greater Chicago regional office. “We hope this will serve as a deterrent to those who would be perpetrators of similar acts of harassment against Jews.”

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