Santa Maria school district sued over ex-teacher's sexual abuse of students

·3 min read

Sep. 24—A former student on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, alleging negligence in hiring a teacher who was ultimately convicted of sexually abusing him and sentenced to prison in 2008.

In his lawsuit, former student James McDaniel accused the district of failing to conduct a "basic and proper" background check on Michael Cardoza, who taught math at Santa Maria and Pioneer Valley high schools between 1997 and 2006.

McDaniel is seeking a jury trial and damages exceeding $25,000, including general damages to be determined at trial; past, present and future damages, including loss of earnings; and attorneys fees.

The district did "not have information at this time" and did not offer a comment on the lawsuit, according to spokesman Kenny Klein.

Cardoza was convicted of all seven counts, including oral copulation of a minor and molestation, and was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Cardoza was released from the California Health Care Facility in August and now resides in Santa Maria as a registered sex offender, according to the lawsuit.

"Cardoza, a serial pedophile with a long history of abuse, used his role as a teacher to gain access to and assault (the) plaintiff and other minor students," said McDaniel in the lawsuit filed in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.

McDaniel filed his case under the California Child Victims Act (AB 218), a law that allows survivors to file civil lawsuits for child sexual abuse that had previously been barred by a statute of limitations.

His lawsuit lists five causes of action, including negligence, negligence in hiring and sexual battery.

In addition to Cardoza, McDaniel included Does 3 to 20, who are unnamed individuals listed as defendants in the lawsuit, because he believes they are liable as employees of the district.

McDaniel was 16 years old and a student in Cardoza's class when the teacher started abusing him 2006, although the lawsuit alleges the sexual abuse allegations go back decades.

Two students accused Cardoza of sexual abuse when he was employed at Golden West High School in Visalia between 1975 and 1984, but he resigned "to escape accountability" and found work at nearby St. Mary's Good Shepherd Catholic Church as an altar boy coordinator, according to the lawsuit.

Cardoza was accused of sexually abusing minors at St. Mary's, where he also entered the seminary to become a priest.

Between 1989 and 1995, Father Rod Craig, the church's vocational director, received two complaints that Cardoza was seen with high school-aged minors at hotels, and another complaint from an alleged victim at Golden West High School before he was fired by the church, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that the church required one of the victims to undergo a psychological evaluation to determine if they were telling the truth about Cardoza.

In 1997, Cardoza was hired by the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, where he continued his abuse and "fine-tuned" his manipulation of students "freely and openly," according to lawsuit.

Following a class in 1999, the aunt of a 15-year-old student confronted Cardoza over using the word "catamite" during instruction, referring to a boy kept by an adult male for sexual purposes, according to the lawsuit.

In 2004, Cardoza began teaching at Pioneer Valley High School, where he eventually met McDaniel.

"The reality is that one phone call from staff at Santa Maria JUHSD to Father Craig or anyone else associated with Cardoza's tumultuous stay at the Archdiocese of Fresno would have prevented Cardoza from ever being hired to teach within Santa Maria JUHSD," according to the lawsuit.

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