Lawyers defending school districts in at least four civil cases are trying to skirt a California law that prevents them from arguing that young molestation victims willingly participated in sexual relationships with adults, according to a report.
Lawmakers four years ago closed a loophole that allowed attorneys to argue consent as an issue in civil cases involving minors molested by adults.
Previously they were prevented from doing so only in criminal cases.
The legislators acted in 2014 following outrage that emerged when an attorney defending a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District tried to pin blame on a 14-year-old middle school student, saying she was old enough to consent to having sex with a 28-year-old teacher.
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Attorneys are now trying to find ways around the new rules, to decrease the millions of dollars school districts might be responsible for paying out in settlements and judgments, KCET-TV reported on May 3.
A judge last week decided not to allow trial testimony about willing participation in a molestation case in the Corona-Norco Unified School District, the news station reported. The district ultimately agreed to a $3 million settlement.
The plaintiff in that case was a teenage girl repeatedly molested in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades by a teacher's aide in his 20s. Steven Michael Martinez, now 27, was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2014.
Before deciding against allowing the testimony, the judge heard arguments from defense attorneys who claimed "the level of damages would be different if plaintiff was, for example, physically forced into a sexual act versus openly volunteering without any coercion," according to court papers cited by KCET.
"Thus, how the act itself was carried out and plaintiff's willingness to participate in the act is relevant and admissible as it relates to damages," attorneys for the district wrote in a March 22 document.
The law firm that defended the Corona-Norco district used the same argument to defend the Torrance Unified School District in a massive civil case stemming from a criminal child molestation case that resulted in former wrestling coach Thomas Snider being sentenced to prison for 69 years to life.
The civil trial is expected to begin later this month.
Jennifer Drobac, a law professor with Robert H. McKinney School of Law at Indiana University who has studied consent laws nationwide, said judges should be "angry" to see arguments made for consent.
Drobac told KCET that the reasoning behind the 2014 law "is that minors do not understand cultural rules the way adults do and make decisions differently than adults."