VISTA — Jurors in a civil trial against CUSD (Carlsbad Unified School District) found the district negligent in supervising a teacher who ultimately molested two female students, awarding the plaintiffs a total of $4.5 million after the five-week trial ended Monday. Two teary-eyed female jurors shook hands with the mothers of the two victims as they both exited the courtroom after the verdict was reached.
The parents of the girls sued the district and the former Pacific Rim Elementary School teacher Raymond Firth, who was convicted in 2010 and served 22 months in prison after pleading guilty to sexually molesting two of his second-and-third-grade students during school.
“It was never about the money. It was about getting the word out,” said one victim’s mother outside of the courtroom. “They (CUSD) failed to supervise teachers and students for several years — many years,” she said.
Her daughter was Firth’s third-grade student in 2007, and came home one day and reported that Firth had groped her over her clothing, which sparked an investigation that led to more female victims also disclosing abuse and inappropriate touching by Firth.
The other girl involved in the lawsuit suffered yearlong abuse by Firth, years earlier, when he made her routinely sit on his lap and molested her underneath her clothing while he helped her with math.
That young lady, now 13, was awarded $2.7 million for past and future damages.
Her mother said after the trial ended that math has been a difficult subject for her daughter to learn, and just one aspect she still suffers from the abuse.
The other teenage girl was awarded $1.8 million, and called a “hero” by at least one juror for coming forward about the abuse.
Several medical professionals testified during the trial that both girls have suffered serious effects from the abuse and will need lifelong therapy.
Fellow students teased both of the girls as the allegations surfaced — though neither victim knew each other; both also suffered the lingering stress and anticipation of Firth’s criminal trial.
The girls each also moved out of the school district, in part due to the molest, according to their mothers.
The lawsuit claimed that CUSD not only failed to discipline Firth after numerous complaints of his physical contact during the seven years he taught there, from 2000 to 2007, but that they “hushed” the criminal investigations into the sexual abuse and quietly let Firth resign.
“During Mr. Firth’s seven years as a teacher there was not one complaint that was reduced to a written document and yet we know there were many complaints during that period of time — all of them brushed aside,” said David Ring, a Los Angeles-based attorney representing the plaintiffs.
Several jurors said that the complaints against Firth should have been documented by the principal.
Juror Theresa Tupuola, 33, said they viewed Firth’s taped testimony repeatedly while they deliberated.
“We viewed his tape over and over, and he said eight times somebody talked to him (about his behavior),” she said.
The jury foreman said after the trial that the lack of documentation of the witnesses’ complaints led the jury to agree on the district’s negligence.
“Anyone who has had a job knows there’s written documentation, so someone down the line knows what the tendencies are,” said Tashfeen Bokhary, 43.
All 12 jurors also found that CUSD delayed parents’ filing of a timely government tort claim by telling them to not talk about the case to anyone or it could jeopardize the criminal investigation.
In a civil trial, only nine jurors must agree in order to reach a decision.
When the criminal case ended in 2010, two of the victims’ parents then sought damages by opening a civil suit, and one of the district’s defense tactics was that the suit wasn’t filed in a timely manner, which is within six months, according to the law.
If the verdict stands, CUSD will be responsible for paying a combined $1.64 million in damages to the girls, and Firth will have to pay $2.46 million; the jury determined Firth should be responsible for 60 percent of the total.
In addition to those amounts, Firth and the district share responsibility of paying each girl $200,000 for future counseling costs.
“It’s more about my daughter’s voice being heard. The jury confirmed that we are supposed to speak up. Everybody also believes her, and she did the right thing,” said the mother of the victim who reported the abuse.
The school district’s attorney, Paul Carelli, said after court that the district’s opinion on the case would not change.
“At the time, they didn’t think this guy was a predator,” he said.