MARTINEZ -- The civil case of Kristen Cunnane against the Moraga School District and three former administrators may come down to statute of limitations arguments.
On Friday, Cunnane's attorneys argued in a Martinez courtroom that Cunnane failed to sue the district until years after her sexual abuse by a teacher ended because she only learned of a district cover-up of abuse problems years later -- after this newspaper uncovered the failings almost a year ago.
Meanwhile, the district's attorneys are asking a Contra Costa Superior Court judge to drop her case because it is "untimely." Legal precedent insists the statute of limitations on filing such a suit begin accruing on the last day of her molestation, which would have been in 2000, district lawyers say.
It was the first big courtroom battle in Cunnane's case, which alleges the district, and former principal Bill Walters, assistant principal Paul Simonin and superintendent John Cooley, failed to act on early warnings of abuse by former Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School science teacher Dan Witters which led to the Cal swim coach's sexual abuse. Cunnane was later raped by her middle school PE teacher Julie Correa over a five-year period "400 to 500 times," her attorney Paul Llewellyn told the judge Friday.
A handful of girls came forward accusing Witters of abuse in 1996, and he later killed himself before any criminal investigation was completed. This newspaper uncovered documents showing school officials failed to report earlier abuse warnings and act on multiple signs of inappropriate behavior by the teacher over many years.
Cunnane, who attended Friday's hearing, said the district's position is difficult to listen to.
"I feel like the school district is once again blaming me. Now they say I should have filed the lawsuit earlier because apparently I should have found out about their cover-up earlier," the Walnut Creek resident said. "It's still painful to be blamed for any part of it."
Statute of limitations laws in California vary depending on the particular sexual abuse scenario. School district lawyer Marina Pitts argued that after her abuse, Cunnane knew the identification of her molesters, knew she was molested and knew they worked for the school district, so any lawsuit should have been filed then.
Llewellyn argued his client's lawsuit was about the cover-up and reporting failures, not the abuse itself.
"It is not the sexual abuse Ms. Cunnane is suing for ... that's not what this case is about," he said.
He told the judge, "The defendants are asking you to reward them for their cover-up."
Both sides also argued over an earlier 2010 claim filed by Cunnane and whether that abandoned claim would impact the current lawsuit.
Judge Judith Craddick asked for more written arguments from both sides and scheduled another hearing on July 29.
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.