Childhood Sexual Abuse Case Filed Against Santa Maria Joint Union High School District

September 23, 2021


Costa Mesa, California – Attorneys from Greenberg Gross and Jeff Anderson & Associates filed a lawsuit against the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District and former Pioneer Valley High School teacher Michael Donald Cardoza on behalf of childhood sex abuse survivor James McDaniel. The case was filed under the California Child Victims Act (AB 218), a law that allows survivors to file civil lawsuits for child sexual abuse that had previously been barred by statute of limitations.

Cardoza was convicted of child molestation and documenting a sex act of a minor in 2008 after he sexually assaulted Mr. McDaniel. As a result, Cardoza was sentenced to 16 years in jail before he was recently released on parole.

“Even after all these years, I still live with the pain of the sexual abuse I suffered at the hands of Michael Cardoza,” said child sexual abuse survivor James McDaniel. “It was a difficult decision to come forward in 2008, but it was the right decision. Today, I am again coming forward to ensure students at the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District are better protected than I was in 2006.”

Mr. McDaniel enrolled in the Pioneer Valley High School in early 2006 and was placed in Cardoza’s math class. Cardoza started to groom Mr. McDaniel soon after. On June 16, 2006, Cardoza sexually assaulted Mr. McDaniel, who was only 16 years old. Cardoza forced himself on Mr. McDaniel and took naked pictures of him during the assault itself. Shortly after the incident, McDaniel reported the abuse to a friend and the police were called the same day. Cardoza was arrested soon after.

“Mr. McDaniel saved other children from Cardoza by reporting the assault,” said Greenberg Gross attorney Brian Williams. “Even though he was only 16 at the time, Mr. McDaniel did more to protect students than the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District. It was his courage that brought Cardoza to justice. Even after Cardoza was arrested, the Santa Maria JUHSD did not immediately fire him. They showed more regard for Cardoza than they did for the wellbeing of Mr. McDaniel.”

Cardoza had been abusing children for decades before he sexually assaulted Mr. McDaniel. He started abusing students at Golden West High School in Visalia, California in the 1980s. After almost 20 years at the high school, Cardoza eventually resigned in 1994 to escape accountability.

In the early 1990s, Cardoza worked as an altar boy coordinator at St. Mary’s Church in Visalia, California where it is believed he engaged in inappropriate behavior with other minors. Cardoza later applied to the Mount Angel Seminary to become a priest. Church officials later found out about Cardoza’s past abuse and dismissed him from the seminary in 1995.

The Santa Maria JUHSD then hired Cardoza in 1997, where he continued to sexually abuse students at Santa Maria High School. He then requested a transfer to Pioneer Valley High School and started working there in 2004. It was there that he met and assaulted Mr. McDaniel in 2006.

“Despite the countless red flags and inappropriate behavior with students at various schools, no one stepped in to stop Cardoza from abusing numerous minors and students,” said Jeff Anderson & Associates attorney Mike Reck. “The school district needs to be held accountable for failing to protect Mr. McDaniel and other students.”

Read the complaint

Coverage of this case is evolving and will be updated here.

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Greenberg Gross Contacts

Deborah Mallgrave: 949.383.2790 (o)
Brian Williams: 949.383.2780 (o)

Jeff Anderson & Associates Contacts

Mike Reck: 714.742.6593 (c), 310.357.2425 (o)
Mike Finnegan: 612.205.5531 (c), 651.227.9990 (o)

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