A lawsuit against the West Aurora District 129 superintendent and the former West Aurora High School principal arguing they failed to protect a student from criminal sexual abuse from a former band director has been put on hold for at least three months while the Kane County State's Attorney's Office conducts a criminal investigation.
Kane County Judge F. Keith Brown on Thursday issued a three-month stay on the lawsuit against Superintendent James Rydland and Dan Bridges, former West Aurora principal who is now superintendent at Naperville School District 203.
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Attorneys for the two men argued that allowing the lawsuit to proceed while the state's attorney's office was investigating would be unfair to their clients if they needed to invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
"It is true that the only person indicted in this case has been the co-defendant, Stephen Orland, but the fact remains that defendants are still under investigation by the Kane County State's Attorney's Office," wrote Rydland's defense attorney, Nicholas Kourvetaris, in court papers. "As such, Rydland requests a stay in order to prevent information that may be elicited in the civil case from being exposed and used during any criminal case."
The former band director, Orland, 43, of North Aurora, pleaded guilty to having sexual contact with the students and was sentenced to 12 years in prison last March.
All sides are due in court again June 20; Orland and District 129 also are defendants in the lawsuit.
Brown, however, ruled that attorneys for the girl, identified in court documents as Jane Doe, can proceed with gathering documents from the school district.
"The school district doesn't have a Fifth Amendment right in this case," Brown said.
In the suit, the teen argues that Rydland and Bridges failed to contact the Department of Children and Family Services after a July 2010 incident in which a janitor found Orland and another girl in a secluded band storage room and, thus, violated the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act.
She seeks a jury trial and damages of more than $50,000.
Brian Perkins, one of the attorneys representing the girl, argued against putting the lawsuit on hold, saying neither Rydland nor Bridges had been charged with any criminal wrongdoing.
"There are no charges. Much of what is being said is speculation," Perkins said. "Our investigation is going to be much broader than the criminal case. We're going well before (the July 2010 janitor incident) because we think the grooming started well before that."
This past fall, officials from the DCFS said District 129 failed to comply with state reporting laws by not alerting state authorities to the July 2010 incident. DCFS officials also said a janitor on duty at the time was required to report the incident to the state as well.
The victim's lawsuit accuses school officials of turning a blind eye to Orland's behavior with students and not reporting the July 2010 incident, in which a janitor heard "giggling and other sounds" coming from a secluded band storage room, and found Orland and a different female student in there hugging before Orland ran away.
Perkins said attorneys could subpoena more than 50 current and retired school employees in the case.
"The sad part about this case it could have been prevented," Perkins said outside of court. "Stephen Orland isn't the only culpable party here and there was an opportunity to stop further abuse."
The lawsuit argues the district's non-action gave Orland license to ratchet up his relationship with the plaintiff, then a 16-year-old junior, by "engaging in sexual activities, on school grounds, almost on a daily basis," including sending the teen text messages, placing cards and notes in her locker and writing hall passes to "facilitate liaisons with her."