2 Abuse Claims Filed Against Moraga District

Update: Unidentified women say they were molested by Joaquin Moraga Intermediate teacher in the 1990s.

Update, Nov. 2. Comment from school district in Cunnane case.

Two new claims against the Moraga School District accuse administrators of failing to follow up on abuse allegations made in the 1990s.

The two claims for $15 million each alleged the district and its administrators allowed molestations to take place because of flawed investigations at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School, according to a story in the Contra Costa Times.

The claims allege abuse by former Joaquin Moraga teacher Daniel Witters, who committed suicide in 1996 shortly after the original allegations were made, the Times reported. The two "Jane Does" making the claims read about another abuse allegation made against Witters in the 1990s in an investigation earlier this year by the newspaper.

The district is also defending itself against a lawsuit filed in September by Kristen Cunnane a former JM student claiming abuse by Witters and another teacher at the school in the 1990s. In an October legal filing, the district stated "Carelessness and negligence on (Cunnane's) part proximately contributed to the happenings of the incident and to the injuries, loss and damages," according to the Contra Costa Times.

The district in June established a Board Committee for Student Safety to review "policies, practices and training regarding child abuse and mandated reporting."

Moraga School District Superintendent Bruce Burns declined to comment on the new claims.

Jose November 01, 2012 at 03:48 AM
Well, I live in Moraga, in the present. I was limiting my comments to the sad situation the students of MSD find themselves in as a result of actions and screwups done before they were born. I can address current screwups, I suppose, as they become known to me. I don't have Mad-eye Moody's talent for spotting malevolence in the strangers I meet on the street.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop November 01, 2012 at 03:20 PM
I still am astonished that even after admitting they did not report Witters to the police as required by law, the school officials avoided prosecution! It appears they were silent in order to protect their jobs instead of the innocents in their charge. Outrageous!
Ryan November 01, 2012 at 08:24 PM
School District Response to the Cunnane Lawsuit: http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_21906364/moraga-school-district-child-sex-abuse-victim-was
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop November 01, 2012 at 11:52 PM
Why would the police drop their interest in the investigation? Suicide does not end the potential legal culpability for Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School principal Bill Walters, retired assistant principal Paul Simonin and retired superintendent John Cooley. Everything I have read indicates they slapped these perverts on the wrist and left them loose among these children to heap additional abuse on these innocents. If these allegation are indeed true, the law should be applied, they should have been fired thereby negating their retirement annuities. The protection and well being of the students in their charge is primary to those positions. And they failed. Why did the police fail to follow up with charges? This is ugly and getting worse.
Carson November 02, 2012 at 12:21 AM
I am disgusted by the comments from Moraga School District, and embarrassed to be an employee.
Chris Nicholson November 02, 2012 at 01:13 AM
"failure to protect" type theories are civil ($$$) matters, which the polic are not involved with. The suicide did NOT impact these claims, which is why (per the District) the victims should not have waited this not top chase them. Time, on the other hand, can limit claims. Even if the DIstrict "hid the smoking gun," it is not normal to NOT sue just because you don't see a smoking gun. If you are laying blame with the party charged with pursuing possible liability, that would be the victim and her family, not the police. This is just the way our system works. you can assess whether that is a good attribute. BTW, historically these claims are barred after one year. VERY VERY favorable legislation changed these rules, but it is still not clear that these claims are not barred. Again, you can assess whether this is good or bad.
Chris Nicholson November 02, 2012 at 01:18 AM
Those with the attitude that the district should pay up without defending itself should consider raising funds for such purpose and settling the case directly. Let's see---- $15M*3=$45M/1800(students) = $25,000 per student. Just ask the parents to cut the checks to the "Don't be Disgusting Fund." Since some can't/won't pay, you should probably ask for $100K per student.
Jose November 02, 2012 at 03:06 AM
Congodog: You may be heartened to know that when this sort of crime becomes more visible and is prosecuted (see link), it becomes less common due to vigilance and consequences. You may be disheartened to know that this kind of heightened visibility comes and goes with time... http://www.contracostatimes.com/ci_21899769/trial-begins-san-jose-principal-accused-failing-report?IADID=Search-www.contracostatimes.com-www.contracostatimes.com
Jose November 02, 2012 at 03:09 AM
Yeah. My response was simply Wow!
Chris Nicholson November 02, 2012 at 03:14 AM
@Christa: You must find much in the real world to be abhorrent. At $15M*3= $45M, this is about 3X the TOTAL budget for the entire district. Should they shut down the schools for three years in order to avoid being "vile?" From where should the money come? If you were the sole member of the District's board, what, exactly, would you do here so as to avoid being cowardly and disgusting? Would you do it before or after requiring the plaintiffs to make their cases and withstand legal defenses? Look, innocent children who suffered horribly at the hands of teachers (or anyone) deserve compassion, but they don't necessarily deserve unlimited access to nearby deep pockets without first establishing a legal right to compensation. These cases are not slam dunk. I am not trying to marginalize the suffering of the kids, but rather to ridicule those (like you) who think the District should not defend itself.
Christa November 02, 2012 at 03:19 AM
The victim in question in the larger case was branded "careless and negligent" by the board today. Everything you've just so carefully logically and condescendingly explained is entirely, utterly invalid.
Cooper Hall November 02, 2012 at 04:12 AM
All this is driven by the lawyers. They are the ones who'll collect the most money. Bloodsuckers.
Scott Bowhay November 02, 2012 at 04:55 AM
I noticed the District Board will be having a Special Closed Session Meeting at the district offices at 7:30 A.M., Friday morning (11/02/12), to discuss Cunnane vs. the Moraga School District. Though this meeting is closed to the public, it is incumbent upon the board to report on the meeting (in very general terms), and to receive Public Comment immediately afterwards.
KFrances November 02, 2012 at 06:30 AM
They should throw the book at the Moraga School District & the three other defendants for their legal response as printed in the CC Times today....how Horrifying and Monstorous. 'People of the Lie' by M. Scott Peck...describes how evil can infiltrate...sick. From Apathetic to Sociopathic.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop November 02, 2012 at 02:05 PM
Jose, If we cannot protect our children from predators, where have we gone as a society?
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop November 02, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Chris, There is a clinical coldness to your writing that diverts attention to 'what it will cost us' from concern about these innocents that are preyed upon and then allowed to continue by spineless administrators. Every incident should immediately be given the benefit of any doubt (sometimes kids tell tales), discretely turned over to the police for immediate investigation, while the involved individual is suspended. Immediate attention makes for quicker. more accurate disposition. Administrators that fail to report incidents immediately become accomplices after the fact and suffer penalties similar to the perpetrators. An objective analysis of these incidents finds the breakdown in the process seems to occur when the Principal becomes involved, they being the highest point in the hierarchy. HR folks, nurses, etc. should be able to escalate past recalcitrant local authority and go to the police directly if they find the process is stalled. The sooner the offender and his/her crimes are revealed, the sooner the healing begins for the victim and it is better in terms of remuneration through future law suits, far better. And the criminal is removed from the equation sooner.
Chris Nicholson November 02, 2012 at 02:26 PM
@KFrances: kindly translate you visceral emotional reaction into a specific action plan. What exactly should the District do? If it involves cash payments, where does the money come from?
Chris Nicholson November 02, 2012 at 02:43 PM
@Fritz: you seem cool as a clinical cucumber. I agree with nearly all that you said other than your over broad and simplistic notion of vicarious liability of the District here. Your normative perspective, which you of course are entitled to, it different than reality. In reality,there are varies hoops to jump through--- mostly grounded in longstanding balancing of various legitimate interests. Apart from policy reform (which these lawsuits do not seek, and the judges cannot award), how would you deal with with the litigation if you were in charge of the District?
Cooper Hall November 02, 2012 at 03:25 PM
The Lamorinda Loons are out in force on this one.
Cooper Hall November 02, 2012 at 03:27 PM
The two of you sound more like Kumquats.
lovelafayette November 02, 2012 at 04:57 PM
There is a lesson for all here. The law designates certain professions/job titles and some volunteers as mandatory reporters for child abuse. The rest of you do not need a law to know that the right way to handle SUSPECTED child abuse is to report it, be a good Samaritan. In Moraga this reporting needs to be directly to 925-646-1680, Child Protective Services. If sexual abuse is alleged CPS will contact the police. Anyone can call. I would NOT report to the MSD, unless I was an employee. I would urge staff to also call CPS on your own. There are 2 more lawsuits, and the MSD " middle school student was responsible" defense for a predator who is in prison! School staff who supported Correa and were colleagues of Witter are still MSD employees. MSD took way too long to re-write the mandatory reporting policy. The responsible settlement would be for MSD to assume the restitution payments assigned to the imprisoned Correa, who will never be able to pay it off.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop November 02, 2012 at 06:24 PM
Immediate reporting to CPS is the best way to 'limit' damages. Hide the acts and the perp and open the flood gates. More administrators need to learn this and leave their twisted moralities out of the equation.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop November 02, 2012 at 11:22 PM
Thanks 'Love....', The cultural dynamic relative to pedophiles in this country needs to 'grow up'. Until fairly recently the aberrance we call 'pedophilia' lived in the shadows. Incidents were hushed up and swept under the rug, essentially because administrators and school board members were not trained to deal with such matters. The training did not exist. The cultural taboos are so powerful that hardly anyone wanted to face the fact that these sick folks could crop up anywhere at anytime. Now, years later, the victims (also stymied by cultural impedance) are coming out of their psychological safe havens and spilling all. Meanwhile, authorities stumbled around trying to deal with the "effect" when the "cause" went ignored. Not the 'cause' that gives us pedophiles, but the mechanism that deals with incidents of pedophilia when it occurs. If these acts are exposed and dealt with as they occur, instead of years later, the severity of the repercussions is reduced dramatically. The new culture, brought about by ridding ourselves of the "Hide it" taboo, allows those in charge to act confidently and intelligently to purge the criminals quickly. The victims enter treatment and the perpetrators are removed in short order. The predominate reactions to hearing such vile news has been to keep it under wraps, to protect the institution's image, to save one's job. Now, with a cultural shift that says, 'we know this can happen, how do we stop it?', we can.
KFrances November 03, 2012 at 12:58 AM
@CN MSD was & is 'Careless and Negligent' then and NOW as they demonstrated by their 'legal response' to this highly respected swim coach. That's why she sued. I've never sued & I'm not a fan of it - but she must have seen how they operate and now we all can. MSD should print an apolgy... Action Plan: Stop the Abuse of Public Humiliation today MSD. Clearly they don't 'get it' still - someone at the top approved their 'legal response' - @ Cooper H. - not good form. Manipulative adults collude, kidnap, rape and cover up a 12-ish year old child in their care & she's the one with the problem. What's going on ?
Chris Nicholson November 03, 2012 at 01:24 AM
I am 100% certain that the MSD Directors would love nothing more than to do sincere mea culpas and work with all interested parties to put in place new/strengthened policies. But right now they have a ~$45M gun to the heads of their budget and, by proxy, the children who look to those funds for an education. Of course if Cunnane and Does 1 through Z gave full releases (or demanded only structural remedies and no cash), then we could all move on. I don't fault the plaintiffs from seeking a big cash payoff here, but if they choose to go that route they (and their supporters) should not blame the DIstrict for defending itself-- including the assertion of many powerful (if not awkward) defense theories. I am sorry that reality is so crass, but these cases are about money. Pretending otherwise changes nothing. If the lawyers were working pro bono and the plaintiffs pledged to give all of their proceeds to relevant charities, I might have a different view.
Regular Guy November 03, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Chris is correct that once it becomes about $45M common sense is no longer possible. As he says, if the plaintiffs were to modify the lawsuit to seek structural changes only it would be possible to reach a result that satisfies everyone. Does a child abuse victim deserve a pile of money? Maybe, if you believe that money can heal the wounds. Does the victim deserve money taken from other children's education or from citizens who had no part in the crime? No way. Get the money only from people who were to blame, not from the blameless.
KFrances November 03, 2012 at 02:57 AM
If she saw the blatent and repeated disregard of her accusations and the denial and the 'blaming of the victim' and true corruption, her only avenue was a lawsuit. Beuracracies mostly stonewall. The 45 Million is excessive but that is also part of the deal with lawsutis I think...they work down from there and maybe she will give it all to charity - or back to MSD. I don't think it's about the cash payoff. But for the attorneys it is for sure..I don't know - it's just ugly all the way around. No winners here - but I do think that legal response by MSD was especially ugly. It didn't happen all that long ago.
Cooper Hall November 03, 2012 at 03:11 AM
@K - There's absolutely nothing wrong with my form unless you dislike the truth. The district and Ms. Cunnane are engaged in a PR war at the moment. They must ascertain how public sentiment is swinging. This case won't make it to trial. Both sides are trying to determine who has the best negotiating advantage so that a final dollar figure that's mutually agreeable can be reached. Civil cases such as this one are about PR. To think otherwise is naive.
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