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BANG v. MDUSD lawsuit lays out chronology of abuse suspicions, charges, claims and reporting related to Woodside Elementary teacher

By Theresa Harrington
Thursday, October 17th, 2013 at 11:05 am in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.


A lawsuit filed against the Mt. Diablo school district last month by The Bay Area News Group provides a comprehensive look at the circumstances that led to Woodside Elementary teacher Joseph Martin’s arrest and the subsequent claims made against the district.

As reported by Times writer Lisa Vorderbrueggen, Bay Area News Group is asking a judge to force the district to release internal records about Martin, 45, who has been charged with 125 counts related to the alleged sexual molestation of 13 young male students between 2006 and April 2013. He was arrested in June and is in jail on $10 million bail. He pleaded not guilty in July. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

The district has refused to produce documents pertaining to Martin, citing personnel and investigatory exemptions in California’s public records law. The news organization argues in its lawsuit filed in Contra Costa Superior Court that the records are not exempt and must be produced.

BANG attorney Duffy Carolan’s 175-page lawsuit includes a 12-page complaint that outlines the chronology of the state’s case against Martin, along with three subsequent claims and a civil rights lawsuit. It also details investigative reporter Matthias Gafni’s attempts to get records related to Martin from the district.

In a June 29 Public Records Act Request, Gafni sought: “Any and all writings pertaining to Mt. Diablo Unified School District teacher Joseph Andrew Martin, 45, relating to allegations of wrongdoing (including inappropriate behavior with students), complaints, investigations, findings, discipline meted out or other action taken against Mr. Martin during his tenure at the district.”

BANG is seeking district investigations into incidents that were allegedly witnessed and reported to district officials by other teachers. For example, one complaint alleges that a teacher walked in on Martin and a male student one evening and saw that they were behind a closet door with their shoes off. Another teacher said older boys who had graduated often returned to the campus and went into Martin’s room alone, with the classroom door locked, according to claims.

In the most recent claim, a 2013 police report is quoted, which cites a 2006 internal district document that found “potential child abuse” by Martin. The police report says no one from the district reported Martin to Child Protective Services or to law enforcement authorities at the time. Instead, the district created new rules for Martin, such as keeping his classroom door open at all times, according to the claim.

Here is the complete lawsuit:

This is not the first time BANG has requested personnel-related documents from the district. In the past, I have received large files from the district in relation to personnel decisions that led to separation agreements with employees. These files contained numerous memos documenting complaints and meetings to remedy those complaints. No such documents were released to BANG in relation to Martin.

And earlier this year, Times columnist Dan Borenstein asked the school board to review documents that were withheld from his Public Records Act request by then-General Counsel Greg Rolen. Borenstein asked trustees to waive the privilege asserted by Rolen and to release documents related to employment agreements with then-Superintendent Steven Lawrence, Rolen and three other top administrators. As a result of Borenstein’s appeal directly to the school board — which bypassed the general counsel — trustees agreed to release more documents.

In this case, too, the board has the right to override Interim General Counsel Jayne Williams’ denials and release documents that are being withheld, in the interest of public transparency. Trustees Barbara Oaks and Brian Lawrence were elected last November, after pledging to usher in a new era of transparency in the district. They — along with Board President Cheryl Hansen — voted to terminate the previous superintendent’s contract a year early, in part due to mistrust in the district that resulted from secrecy and stonewalling public requests for information.

Further complicating this case is the fact that previous Interim Superintendent Johh Bernard is the father of Jennifer Sachs, who was principal at Woodside Elementary in 2006 and is named in some of the claims. Trustees hired Bernard soon after Martin was placed on a leave of absence. Bernard worked through the end of September, during the time when Martin was arrested and alleged victims began filing claims against the district. He told me that the district would cooperate fully with police and his relationship with Sachs would not affect the investigation.

Newly appointed Superintendent Nellie Meyer, who took the helm Sept. 23, has entered into a contract with Bernard’s employer — Total School Solutions — for nine months of consulting as she transitions into her new role.

Do you believe the district should release documents that it is withholding related to internal complaints about Martin?

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120 Responses to “BANG v. MDUSD lawsuit lays out chronology of abuse suspicions, charges, claims and reporting related to Woodside Elementary teacher”

  1. Doctor J Says:

    Maybe the State PTA will give you a comment for one of their Board members and Parliamentarian charged with Conspiracy and Fraudulent Concealment ? If the State won’t comment, the National organization might.

  2. g. de la verdad Says:

    Do we know if Steven Lawrence and Greg Rolen ever agreed to/signed the Revision Addendums presented on 3/11/13? Specifically added — meaning the full board was aware of what was about to hit the fan — “H. Any salary provided the Superintendent pending an investigation shall be fully

    reimbursed if the Superintendent is convicted of a crime involving an abuse of his

    or her office or position, as set forth in Government Code sections 53243 and

    I. Any funds for the legal criminal defense of the Superintendent provided by the District shall be fully reimbursed to the District if the Superintendent is convicted
    of an abuse of his or her office or position, as set forth in Government Code sections 53243.1 and 53243.4.

    H. Any salary provided the Superintendent pending an investigation shall be fully
    reimbursed if the Superintendent is convicted of a crime involving an abuse of his or her office or position, as set forth in Government Code sections 53243 and 53243.4.

    I. Any funds for the legal criminal defense of the Superintendent provided by the District shall be fully reimbursed to the District if the Superintendent is convicted of an abuse of his or her office or position, as set forth in Government Code
    sections 53243.1 and 53243.4.”

  3. Doctor J Says:

    Haight Brown & Bonesteel must be proud about the Fraudulent Concealment “in perpetuity” and Conspiracy to Commit Fraud charges filed yesterday against their partner of less than a month — it probably gives their clients great comfort to know the quality of legal advice Rolen gave to MDUSD that took 7 years to unravel the tangled web — now Haight’s clients can spend a fortune to get that same quality legal advice. Haight really knows how to get free publicity.

  4. g. de la verdad Says:

    Linda Mayo should be recusing herself on any closed session discussions, and Board votes to advise legal staff on the Martin case. Then again, she should have been recusing herself from Martin discussions from the first date that charges were officially brought to the board’s attention.

  5. Concerned Says:

    Was Roger Byland still with MDUSD during this time?

  6. Doctor J Says:

    Yes, Roger Byland, former MDUSD Assistant Supt, was appointed Supt of the Paradise USD on July 8, 2008 and began working up in the hills shortly thereafter.

  7. Doctor J Says:

    Since Linda Mayo could be held liable personally for PUNITIVE DAMAGES out of her own pocket, she now has a financial conflict of interest which disqualifies her from participation or listening to the discussion and voting. She needs to be excused during that discussion. I point this out below.

  8. Guest Says:

    Do you know what will happen with this case? What always happens with civil cases. They will do paper discovery, they will do depositions, they will do more depositions, they will do motions for summary judgment, and then they will go to mediation, and then after two or three sessions, they will settle. And it will all die, as everything does. And the victims will get their money, as they deserve. And maybe someone will lose a credential, but probably not. And no one will ever be in an orange jumpsuit. And former employees like legal counsel and Dr. McHenry will live happily ever after. And Martin will die in jail, or get out when he is a very old man. And that is where the story will end.

  9. Doctor J Says:

    Theresa should get kudos for her story and survey that is making “mandatory” the training for “mandatory reporters”. Theresa, perhaps you can repost the links and tell us the history and behind the scenes stuff — like how one local supt demanded you retract your story because he wanted all reports of suspected sexual abuse to be first “screened” by him before they were reported to the police or CPS and how you shut him down. Theresa, YOU have made a DIFFERENCE in protecting children ! Hats of to you !

  10. Doctor J Says:

    The amounts of damages claimed are in a separate document, which I am told is called a Statement of Damages, which is not filed with the court. Perhaps Theresa can request copies of this from the victims attorneys and post along with the complaints so the public can see what is the amount of money requested by the victims in this case, including punitive damages against the school and district administrators.

  11. tmharrington Says:

    Dr. J: Thanks so much for this comment. A large portion of the credit goes to our investigative reporter Matthias Gafni, who is now pursuing the 2006 report from MDUSD. FYI, we have entered that story in several journalism awards contests, so hopefully the judges will agree that this kind of journalism is an important service to the community. I would also like to credit our database guru Danny Willis (an MDUSD alum), who created the interactive online database that shows how districts responded.
    As a reminder, here’s our story:

    And here’s the database:

    Also, here’s our story about the feds stepping up calls for better training, spurred on by Rep. George Miller, who said suspicions of grooming should be reported to police before it gets to the point of actual abuse:

    The superintendent you mentioned was from Dublin, who disputed our contention that his district’s requirement to inform administrators about suspected abuse before alerting police or CPS was contrary to the law. He said the district was just trying to help people fill out the reports and that it was going above and beyond what the law required. But, when I informed him that this policy could be a disincentive to report suspected abuse by district employees, he said he would call the district’s lawyer to get clarification. I never heard back from him.

  12. tmharrington Says:

    I asked both attorneys for the amount of damages and they said it hasn’t been determined yet. They also said there is some sort of law prohibiting them from listing specific dollar amounts in the pleadings. Lewis said the full extent of damage to his clients is still being determined, based on ongoing counseling the boys are receiving. Casper also said more and more is being revealed as the boys are coming to terms with what happened to them and are slowly opening up about it.

  13. tmharrington Says:

    CSEA rep Annie Nolen made a powerful statement last night (one of many), when she warned that she doesn’t want to see something happen in the district — as a result of its failure to properly train employees regarding bloodborne pathogens — like what happened as a result of its failure to properly train employees in mandated reporting responsibilities (and the failure of administrators who should have known the law to actually follow it).
    Neither suit names the teachers who failed to report their suspicions to police or CPS. Yet, it is clear that several teachers at the school had serious concerns about Martin’s behavior, which prompted the internal investigation. Had those teachers gone directly to police or CPS in 2005-06, the subsequent abuse might have been prevented. It’s unclear why they didn’t, but the implication appears to be that they didn’t know that’s what they were supposed to do because the district hadn’t trained them properly. They trusted the district to follow up. This is why teachers should report suspicions directly to authorities. Unfortunately, district administrators can’t always be trusted to do the right thing.

  14. Doctor J Says:

    Please Theresa, don’t forget to upload the BANG legal brief and request for in camera review. I know you are busy, but those documents are important.

  15. tmharrington Says:

    I’ll get to that when I can. In the meantime, here’s the Meyers Nave belated response to my request for comment:

    Please note that I emailed complete copies of the lawsuits to Meyers Nave the morning of Feb. 11, with the permission of both attorneys for plaintiffs. So, even though Meyers Nave had not yet been officially served, they had the lawsuits and Gilbert was in his office. Both times I called, he was “on the other line.”

  16. Doctor J Says:

    The big lie starts off in Paragraph 3: “The District’s priority has been . . to provide — for every student — a safe school environment . . . ” Its time to hook up the polygraph — why was the suspicious conduct not reported to the police or CPS ? Why was it actively concealed ? Why was there no enforcement of the “restrictions” place on Martin ? Why, until this year, has there not been mandatory training for ALL employees on child abuse reporting as REQUIRED BY LAW ? Why did MDUSD never report to the State Supt of Schools that it was not training its employees in child abuse reporting AS REQUIRED BY LAW ? Why hasn’t the district taken punitive action against the administrators, site and district, who failed to enforce the law ? Lets have some truthful answers and quit padding the legal bills of Meyers Nave. Meyers Nave just spent $2,500 of student’s money to draft that press release — about $50 per word. And teachers are begging for donations of pencils and supplies — what hypocrisy !

  17. g. de la verdad Says:

    The bigger lie may be: “The… [Martin]… was removed from campus.” Talk about a day late and a dollar short! How about 7 yrs late and untold number of new abuses during that 7 yrs!

  18. Doctor J Says:

    How about the whole truth — Martin allowed by Principal Jen Cronan to say goodbye to his students and allowed one on one contact to influence at least one not to say anything — Martin Nave calls that “removed from campus” ? Someone needs to give those lawyers drug tests !

  19. tmharrington Says:

    I think you mean “Meyers Nave.”

    Here’s a new blog post about Rep. George Miller’s call for better training, along with state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson’s call for the same thing, as well as a link to a guest commentary about training offered by the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Contra Costa:

  20. tmharrington Says:

    Here are three of the documents filed with Contra Costa County Superior Court by Bay Area News group’s attorney, Duffy Carolan:

    1. Request for in camera review of withheld documents:

    2. Proposed order re request for in camera review:

    3. Memorandum of Points and Authorities in support of verified petition for writ of mandate directed to MDUSD:

    Carolan has not yet sent me her declaration, but I’ll ask for it again.

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