Greenberg Gross filed a lawsuit against Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) for sexual assault at the Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) by its founder Ralph S. Opacic. The lawsuit alleges that, for decades, Opacic used his leadership of OCSA to create and foster a toxic environment at OCSA that allowed him to prey on vulnerable students. Moreover, the lawsuit alleges that the OCSA and SAUSD turned a blind eye to rumors and other red flags of Opacic’s misconduct with underage students, all in an effort to protect the reputation of OSCA, widely recognized as one of the premier arts schools in Southern California and the nation.
OCSA opened as a charter school for the arts in Santa Ana in 2000. Opacic served as the founder and executive director of OCSA until he retired at the end of the 2021-2022 school year.
As executive director, Opacic stood in a position of power, respect, confidence, trust, and authority to Plaintiff and other students under his care. The lawsuit alleges that the teachers, faculty, and administration fed a cult-like mentality that helped shield Opacic when rumors about his sexual involvement with students began to circulate.
Plaintiff entered OCSA in 8th grade. Plaintiff had been performing since he was a child, and discovered a passion for theatre and other performing arts. Growing up in Oakland, Plaintiff was bullied for his interest in the arts, and finally felt that he belonged when he began taking classes at OCSA. When Plaintiff was in his junior year, Opacic began grooming him by, among other things, sending him suggestive emails. Opacic then had an assistant pull Plaintiff out of history class and escort him to Opacic’s private office. It was there that Opacic sexually assaulted Plaintiff behind closed doors, later demanding him not to tell anyone about the sexual assault.
The lawsuit alleges that SAUSD did not take any action against Opacic in connection with these events or the many rumors that had been circulating for years regarding his misconduct with students. Consequently, Opacic was allowed continued access to other students for another 17 years. The lawsuit alleges that SAUSD is liable both directly and as a result of vicarious liability for the failure of its staff to inquire into or report suspicious activities.
As a result of the above-described conduct, Plaintiff has suffered years of emotional distress. Plaintiff is suing 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. To take advantage of this opportunity, any lawsuit must be filed by December 31, 2022.
Greenberg Gross partner Brian Williams commented on the significance of the case:
“This groundbreaking case against one of the most prestigious performing arts schools in the country pulls the curtain back on what has happened for far too long at schools of performing arts. Our courageous client has decided that he must do his part to change a culture of abuse that must be addressed once and for all.”
Linked and Related News Coverage:
- “Former OCSA student alleges sex assault by school founder:
He says abuse took place in 2003-04 academic year”
September 23, 2022 | Orange County Register
Greenberg Gross Contact
Brian Williams: 949.383.2780 (o)