Local News

Thursday, Nov 08 2012 02:44 PM

Judge declines gag order in alleged school rape case

BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

A Kern County Superior Court judge on Thursday denied a Kern High School District motion for a gag order in the case of an autistic teenager whose family is suing the district after she was allegedly raped at school.

The girl was a 16-year-old 10th-grader at the time of the alleged Oct. 15, 2009, incident but had the intellectual capacity of a 4-year-old, according to a civil complaint filed in September 2010.

The Californian generally does not name victims of alleged sexual assault.

The student's parents are suing the district for unspecified damages, saying the school failed to properly supervise the boy, "a troubled special education student having had prior difficulties and/or complaints concerning similar conduct with others," according to the lawsuit.

The district filed a motion to bar the girl's parents and attorney from talking to the media after they granted interviews to newspaper and television reporters.

KHSD attorney Kristen Longo Ford argued in court that media coverage posed a "danger" because it could influence the jury pool.

Judge William Palmer right off the bat indicated he was inclined to deny the motion and asked on what constitutional grounds he could bar media interviews to shield jurors not yet selected who may or may not see the stories.

Ford offered up a couple of past cases in other courts, but Palmer was not impressed and denied the motion.

The KHSD case has garnered media interest because the disabled girl allegedly was assaulted on campus while school was in session, and the girl's parents say the district violated the law by failing to report the incident.

The girl reportedly was attacked at about 11 a.m., and afterward the school allowed her to finish out her regular school day and even attend an after-school program, not telling her parents an aide had walked in on the boy and girl in a bathroom until more than five hours later, according to the complaint.

The Bakersfield Police Department wasn't contacted until the girl's parents took their daughter to a hospital to be examined, they said.

Police did not seek a criminal case against the boy, saying at the time that the alleged assailant could not form criminal intent due to his condition, according to the girl's attorney, Ralph Wegis.

Outside the courtroom, Wegis said he was glad a gag order had not been granted because it would have "prevented any public information contributed by anyone involved in the case."

Ford declined to comment.

Another hearing in the case was set for Nov. 16 on the question of the district's request to add a last-minute expert witness.

The district is hoping to put up a doctor who will say that the girl's autism limits the ramifications and long-term damage from the alleged attack because she may not remember it, Wegis said.

Wegis and the girl's parents contend that the girl is still traumatized years later.

A jury trial is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 26, but in court Thursday the judge indicated the trial was likely to be postponed due to a schedule conflict.

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