Mission Viejo High School (MVHS) Childhood Sexual Assault Lawsuit Filed

March 30, 2022

Orange County, California – Greenberg Gross filed a lawsuit against Saddleback Valley Unified School District (SVUSD), a current drama teacher (Kathy Cannarozzi-Harris) and her husband, a former substitute teacher (Jim Harris). The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Harris committed repeated sexual assaults in the 1990s against two female students at Mission Viejo High School (MVHS). The lawsuit further alleges that the assaults were known by Ms. Harris, who enabled and facilitated the assaults. In addition, the district leadership knew about accusations of abuse in Mission Viejo High’s drama program and did nothing. The first line of the March 26, 2022 Los Angeles Times story about the lawsuit reads: “The complaints about the drama teacher’s husband and his behavior with female students at Mission Viejo High School spanned more than two decades.”

“Despite multiple reports of years of misconduct and abuse, neither Jim or Kathy were admonished, disciplined, removed from campus, or reported to law enforcement,” the complaint states. In October 2001, when Principal Marilyn McDowell finally responded to a letter from one of the alleged victims, McDowell “gaslighted Jane Doe, insisting that Jim’s actions were innocent signs of affection … [she] ignored “evidence of grooming and childhood sexual abuse, and instead informed Jane Doe that Jim’s intent was to give Jane Doe a “caring and loving shoulder to cry on.”

The case is about a “preventable and tragic situation created by a substitute teacher who preyed on the innocence of minor female students and a drama teacher who utterly failed to protect them from the substitute teacher who was her husband,” states the complaint. When the sexual grooming and abuse of minors was brought to the attention of MVHS administration, school leadership chose to blame the students instead of the offending teachers. These teachers lured the young women to their home where the abuse continued and escalated. Even after Jim Harris was fired and his credentials revoked in 2007, MVHS allowed Jim to volunteer for the drama program. He was able to do so with unsupervised access to the students and specifically the girls’ dressing rooms, where he allegedly continued to prey on vulnerable students. As of 2022, Kathy Cannarozzi-Harris is still a teacher at MVSH, “seemingly protected from discipline as a result of SVUSD’s desire to maintain its prestigious Drama Program.”

The plaintiffs, Yara Brighton Wilde and Jane Doe 7026, are suing SVUSD under a California law that allows victims of childhood sexual assault to take legal action against their perpetrator, or a person or entity who owed them a duty of care, regardless of when the actual assault occurred. Any lawsuit must be filed by December 31, 2022.

Read the full complaint

Linked and Related News Coverage:

Greenberg Gross Contacts

Deborah S. Mallgrave: 949.383.2790 (o)
Brian Williams949.383.2780 (o)

 

This site is dedicated to the sexual assault and trafficking practice group of Greenberg Gross LLP. To access the firm's main website, go to ggtriallaw.com.