Fresno County school district can’t question girl on sexual history in abuse case

Francisco Pena
Francisco Pena

The Parlier Unified School District will not be allowed to question an alleged abuse victim about her sexual history, a judge has tentatively ruled.

Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Gaab denied the school district’s motion — plus issued a $3,200 monetary sanction, to be paid to the plaintiff’s attorneys no later than 20 days from her order.

The teenage girl, a former student, is suing the district for alleged negligence and its former basketball coach Francisco Peña for sexual assault allegations, which are still pending in criminal court.

The district’s attorney wanted the girl to answer questions on her sexual history as part of the civil case’s discovery process. “The court cannot find that there was substantial justification for bringing this motion,” the judge wrote.

Inquiries seeking comment from Lynn Garcia, the attorney representing the school district, were not returned. Superintendent Jaime Robles also didn’t return requests for comment.

Rebecca Coll, one of two attorneys representing the teenage girl, said the district didn’t contest the tentative ruling, therefore, the order becomes final.

In the criminal case involving the girl, Peña pleaded no contest in November 2016 to a felony charge of unlawful sex with a minor. But in May 2017, he withdrew his plea because he didn’t want to register as a sex offender.

Victim-shaming alleged

In July, attorney James Quadra, also representing the teenage girl, told The Bee the district was “victim-shaming,” bullying and trying to intimidate his client to get her to drop the lawsuit.

“We are fortunate the court system is here to protect innocent people,” Coll told The Bee. “The school district’s ignoring the pleas from its former student and supporting this kind of conduct against her is inexcusable.”

In May, the girl wrote a letter to the district’s school board to inform them of Garcia’s alleged behavior toward her.

“Even though I was a victim, (your) lawyer has attacked me and tried to make me feel that I was at fault and continues to ask improper questions to bully me,” she wrote.

The teenage girl in the letter to the board also referenced the motion by the district’s lawyer to get her to answer questions about her sexual history. The girl told the school board that when her lawyers complained to Garcia about her questions, Garcia claimed in a letter the girl caused the alleged abuse by Peña.

In a March letter from Garcia to the girl’s attorneys, she stated: “The extent of Plaintiff’s injury that resulted from sexual conduct with Defendant Pena is legitimately disputed and brought on by Plaintiff herself.”

Judge Gaab, in her tentative ruling, referenced Garcia’s letter, saying it was “insulting” to suggest the situation between Pena and the girl was “brought on by plaintiff herself.”

Quadra and Coll, the girl’s attorneys, say the school board ignored their client’s letter.

Peña remains free on a $65,000 bail. His jury trial was tentatively scheduled for Sept. 30, but a judge granted a motion for him to undergo a mental health evaluation. Until it’s completed, the criminal case is on hold.

The civil case was supposed to go to trial in October, but Coll said they will try to postpone until Peña’s criminal case is completed.