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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on January 12th, 2022, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 22, Issue 46 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 22, Issue 46

High school district denies liability in abuse lawsuit

By Taylor O'Connor

Former Pioneer Valley High School math teacher Michael Cardoza was sentenced to 16 years in prison after being convicted in 2008 of child molestation and oral copulation with a minor. Thirteen years later, survivor James McDaniel is asking for damages in a recently filed lawsuit accusing the school district of failing to protect its students.

The Santa Maria Joint Union High School District responded to McDaniel’s September 2021 lawsuit by denying all its claims and asserting that McDaniel shares blame in the abuse, one of McDaniel’s attorneys, Brian Williams, said.

“He can’t share fault with this; he was a minor. It can’t be his fault, and it’s just a horrible thing to say. It revictimizes him,” Williams said. “Every parent at the school district should be concerned because it promotes a culture of silence. If another student gets the understanding they will be blamed, how will they come forward?” Williams said.

This lawsuit comes after a state law change allowing childhood sexual abuse victims the opportunity to file a civil lawsuit until Dec. 31, 2022, Williams said. And the district filed its response in late December. 

In those court documents, the school district denies that McDaniel suffered emotional distress, injuries, or damage from the abuse he received as a 16-year-old.

“This answering defendant denies plaintiff suffered any injury or damage whatsoever, and further denies this answering defendant is liable to plaintiff for any injury or damage claimed, or for any injury or damage whatsoever,” the district’s response stated. 

This is a defense Williams said he’s never seen before.

“How can you say that he suffered no injury or damage after reading the graphic abuse in the complaint? We know the abuse happened and occurred, to say he didn’t suffer any damage is not OK. It’s a public school district that’s supposed to be staffed to serve the benefit of those students; I just can’t believe a public school district would say something like this,” he said. 

Cardoza had a history of sexual abuse prior to his arrival at Pioneer Valley High School, according to the lawsuit filed in September 2021. In the early 1990s, he worked as an altar boy coordinator at St. Mary’s Church in Visalia, California, where, the lawsuit states, he engaged in inappropriate behavior with other minors. He later applied to the Mount Angel Seminary to become a priest, but the lawsuit alleges Cordoza was dismissed in 1995 after church officials discovered his abusive actions.

The Santa Maria Joint Union High School District hired Cardoza to work at Santa Maria High School in 1997, where he sexually abused students, the suit states. After transferring to Pioneer Valley High School in 2004, Cardoza assaulted McDaniel in 2006. 

“This is a lawsuit designed to address the clear negligence of hiring a teacher with a clear background in abuse, and the school district didn’t monitor him enough to allow this to happen. James [McDaniel] was the one brave enough to come forward and go to the cops, and yet he’s the one being blamed for it,” Williams said. “I have to tell my client the defenses being raised; it’s a terrible conversation to have, and now they are saying it’s [his] fault. It’s hard enough for survivors to come forward, but to be blamed makes it worse.” 

District Public Information Officer Kenny Klein sent a statement about the lawsuit to the Sun via email. 

“We are aware of the lawsuit, though we have no comment at this time,” Klein said.










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