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Abuse Victim: Blame Game 'Beyond Devastating'

Update: Kristen Cunnane responds to legal language finding her responsible for abuse she suffered at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate; superintendent says that is only one possible defense, and has been exaggerated by the media.

Update, 6 p.m. Friday, statement by Moraga School Superintendent Bruce Burns.

It is "beyond devastating" that the Moraga School District, in a legal brief, shifts some blame for childhood sexual abuse by an intermediate school teacher to the victim, said that victim, Kristen Cunnane.

Cunnane was responding to a legal answer to her complaint against the district and some of its former administrators states: "These answering Defendants allege that Plaintiff (Cunnane) was herself responsible for the acts and damages of which she claims herein, and by reason thereof is estopped from obtaining any damages as result thereof." The answer was filed Oct. 24, on behalf of the district, by attorney Louis A. Leone of Walnut Creek.

In a statement released by a media relations firm representing her, Cunnane said, “It is beyond devastating that the District would blame me for the years of horrific sexual abuse I was subjected to when I was just a child. There is a critical need for a culture shift in Moraga and elsewhere when it comes to tolerance of child abuse in schools, and this just underscores that we have further to go than I even thought. I can only hope that this lawsuit will move us one step closer to zero tolerance, while also going some way to compensate me for the years of abuse I suffered.”

The district's answer states "that Plaintiff was herself careless and negligent in and about the matters alleged in the complaint, and that said carelessness and negligence on said Plaintiff's part proximately contributed to the happenings of the incident and to the injuries, loss and damages complained of, if any there were, and said negligence on the part of the Plaintiff shall diminish her recovery herein in direct proportion to the extent of such negligence under the doctrine of comparative negligence."

Superintendent's statement

Moraga School Superintendent Bruce Burns issued a public statement Friday afternoon:

"While the school district cannot publicly discuss details of litigation, it would like to offer this public statement in response to recent stories that have appeared in the news media regarding a lawsuit brought against the Moraga School District by Kristen Cunnane.

'We certainly empathize with Ms. Cunnane and did not intend to cause her further distress in filing our formal Answer to her Complaint. However, this is a significant case that could have serious consequences for our school district. She is demanding several million dollars in damages. As a result, at this point in the proceedings we have an obligation not to waive any potential legal lines of defense. The district raised nine possible arguments that might be used in court. Attorneys routinely insert these into Answers filed to Complaints.  Ms. Cunnane and the media have seized on only one of the nine potential areas and over-exaggerated its importance. As this case moves forward and more facts become known, the district will decide if any of these areas might not be applicable. That can certainly happen in this case.'"

ABC7 News has posted a video interview with Cunnane.

Cunnane, now a Walnut Creek resident and the assistant head coach of Cal Berkeley's women's swim team, sued the Moraga School District in September. Between 1994 and 2000, Cunnane was molested by Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School science teacher Dan Witters and then raped, stalked and abused by her physical education teacher Julie Correa. Witters killed himself in 1996. Correa was arrested in 2010 and is serving an eight-year prison term.

Last month, the district received notices of claims against it by two unnamed former students claiming abuse by Witters.

The Moraga School District has established a Student Safety Committee to advise on current practices on reporting child abuse and prevention resources. The Student Safety Committee has on its timeline Nov. 30 to present a report to the Governing Board reviewing "the implementation of Board-approved recommendations."

Ryan November 08, 2012 at 05:58 PM
Andrew you continue to ignore the district's own statements and facts for that matter. "Moraga schools are covered by liability insurance, which is paying for their attorneys and would cover potential monetary awards, Burns said." The legal fees to pay for the bumbling lawyers will come from insurance as well as any payouts in the Lafayette or Moraga cases. Not 1 dollar will come from the students or parents.
Kathy November 09, 2012 at 02:14 AM
Andrew - Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a big hit in the pocketbook to get people to take notice. Children need to be protected from deviants. This will be a very painful wakeup call for the Lamorinda School District, as it should be. Most people still care about children, even those that are now their own. Ask Penn State how they would have handled things differently if they had the opportunity to go back and deal with Sandusky.
Bailey Lee November 09, 2012 at 02:49 AM
Andrew, that's a very interesting/troubling observation about Louie. I think he owes it to the entire community to divulge everything he thinks would require his reclusing himself. Something's not right here.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop November 09, 2012 at 03:35 AM
Wiki strikes again. Ancient history is quaint (or horrific in this instance) and hedonistic rape of innocents disguised as "cultural practice" has very little to do with contemporary mores. Pedophilia is abuse of innocents by adults and destructive to them in untold ways. Attempting to soften the blow with some arcane, interpretive "history" smacks of rationalization and excuse-making. I find these remarks naive and backward. As for Louie, this community is in no mood for soft-pedaling, evasive behavior relative to the safety of children. Louis ought to be clearing the air on this issue (if there is one) pronto. We are in no mood for more 'secrets'.
Chris Nicholson November 09, 2012 at 04:27 AM
@Ryan: How can anyone say that with certainty (that insurance will cover 100% of all possible outcomes)?

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