It took only about an hour Wednesday for a San Joaquin County jury to hold Richard Dale Evans and the Lodi Unified School District civilly liable for the sexual molestation of a special-needs student on a school bus.
Monetary damages in the case have yet to be determined.
Evans, a bus driver, was held liable for the assaults, and Lodi Unified was declared negligent in hiring Evans, according to the verdict read by the court clerk in San Joaquin County Superior Court. The jury determined that the school district was 90 percent liable, and Evans 10 percent.
In a 2011 criminal trial, Evans pleaded guilty to multiple counts of child molestation, including kidnapping and lewd acts on a minor. He received a 25-year prison sentence.
The victim, who was 8 at the time and is now 11, is suffering from fear, anxiety and emotional distress, according to the two-page claim filed in the lawsuit.
“We’re really happy that the district was held liable,” said the girl’s father, who declined to give his name because it could identify who his daughter is.
Jurors were not allowed to comment on their verdict Wednesday because they must still deliberate on how much in damages to award, which is a separate phase of the trial.
Defense attorney Marina Pitts declined to comment on her closing argument or react to the verdict.
“It’s in the hands of the jury,” Pitts said.
When a reporter said that the jury had already rendered its verdict, Pitts said, “It’s still in the hands of the jury.”
Beginning today, the jury will hear testimony about how much in monetary damages should be awarded.
In his closing argument Wednesday, attorney Ken Meleyco, representing the girl’s family, said that school district officials were negligent in hiring Evans even though they learned that Evans was convicted for having sex with a prostitute, a misdemeanor, in downtown Stockton in 2000.
Court documents show that Evans was convicted in 2000 of engaging a prostitute in a vehicle owned by his employer at the time, Frito-Lay. He served five days in custody and three years probation.
Evans was hired to a part-time position with the school district in 2003 and gained full-time employment in 2004, Meleyco said.
A long-time Lodi resident, Evans was a full-time employee at Lodi Unified until 2007 and operated a driving school in Lodi that closed early in 2010.
In his closing argument, attorney Vince Finaldi, also representing the girl’s family, said that Lodi Unified cares about its students, but it has faulty policies and procedures.
“Nobody (from Lodi Unified) has stepped forward and said they were wrong,” Finaldi said. “They didn’t properly train employees on how to do their jobs.”
The attorney added that Carlos Garcia, director of supervision for the LUSD transportation department, and Michelle Madrid, a transportation operations supervisor, are probably good bus drivers but “horrible” at supervising and administering the department.
Only nine of the 12 jurors needed to vote in favor of liability for the school district or Evans to be held liable, Judge Barbara Kronlund said during her instructions to the jury.
The jury convened at about 10:45 a.m. Wednesday and reached a verdict about an hour later.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.