A sexual assault lawsuit previously thought to be prohibited by the statute of limitations alleging the Belmont-Redwood Shores Elementary School District covered up indiscretions could actually go to trial.
Last Tuesday, the San Mateo Superior Court’s Judge Elizabeth Lee issued a tentative ruling overruling a demurrer filed by the district in a lawsuit brought by Roxanne Pedro seeking financial damages for the alleged sexual molestation 13 years ago of her by former custodian Andre Edwards. The Superior Court prepared a tentative ruling on the issue two months ago. In the court’s first ruling on the district’s dismissal request, known as a demurrer, Judge Joseph Scott accepted the district’s legal position, determined that Pedro’s causes of action accrued the day of the alleged molestation, and found Pedro’s negligence claims were barred by the statute of limitations.
“We are pleased by the court’s ruling, which confirms the sound legal merits of Ms. Pedro’s claims and advances this case toward trial,” said Marc Lewis of Lewis & Llewellyn, the firm representing Pedro, in an email. “We look forward to uncovering the full facts regarding how the District mishandled and enabled sexual abuse at Ralston Middle School, so we can all learn from it and prevent it from happening to other children in the community.”
The district, meanwhile, is not pleased with the latest tentative ruling.
“It goes against past case law to reinterpret statute of limitations,” said district spokesman Tom DeLapp. “The judge has enabled them to move forward to trial. We’re surprised and disappointed.”
Once the final ruling is issued, the district will decide what its legal options are to challenge this move.
“It could be several months off because we may challenge this through the Court of Appeals,” DeLapp said. “This could potentially open up a whole new era of people dredging up lawsuits in an effort to get settlements.”
Lee issued a tentative ruling to the parties last month that upheld most of the district’s arguments. The district contended that Pedro waited so long after her molestation to file a July 2013 claim and then a lawsuit that key witnesses have either died, moved to parts unknown or left its employment. Pedro, now an adult, knew from the time of the act that she had been wronged even if Edwards was not prosecuted but failed to act, according to the district. Still, she asked for a second round of oral arguments before issuing the formal ruling.
The district still contends Pedro didn’t file a claim within six months of the 2001 molestation, within six months of Edwards’ March 2011 arrest or within six months of her 2011 interview by Belmont police detectives in connection to his criminal case.
The suit claims the district knew that Edwards committed at least eight separate incidents of sexual misconduct involving at least six students while employed but took “affirmative steps” to hide his history such as sealing a 1996 investigation and not contacting police.
When Pedro was 12, in May 2001, Edwards reportedly touched her inappropriately while she worked on a book report in his office. She told school authorities and police were alerted but charges were never filed because of questions over credibility. In 2010, he groped a student’s breast and buttocks, leading to his arrest and a revisit of Pedro’s allegations. He pleaded no contest to two counts of felony false imprisonment and one count of misdemeanor child annoyance in return for nine months jail and sex offender treatment to settle both cases.
In May 2013, Pedro learned from his probation report in the newest case about his alleged conduct prior to her incident and that the district failed to take action, according to the suit.
The lawsuit names several current and former employees including County Superintendent Anne Campbell, the former district superintendent.
There is a case management conference on the matter Wednesday, Sept. 3.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105