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updated: 2/9/2014 5:18 PM

Attorney: Victim in West Aurora sex abuse lawsuit showed courage

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A former West Aurora High School student who sued West Aurora District 129 for not protecting her from sexual abuse at the hands of a band teacher and failing to report suspicions to state officials has shown a tremendous amount of courage, her attorney said.

The woman is now in her early 20s and a sophomore at a four-year university, attorney Craig Brown said.

"I just feel great that my client had enough courage to stand up and participate in civil proceedings and the criminal case," he said, adding that his client is still in counseling.

Known as Jane Doe in court papers, she sued District 129, Superintendent Jim Rydland, and former West Aurora principal Dan Bridges in late 2012, arguing they did not report conduct by former band director Stephen Orland.

Orland is serving a 12-year prison term after pleading guilty to sexually abusing two of his former students between October 2010 and April 2011. Prosecutors accused Orland of having sex with the girls at various locations at the school, grooming them with cards and sending some 47,000 text messages to them.

Lawyers for the district, Rydland and Bridges reached a settlement last week and the case was dismissed. A judge sealed the settlement and attorneys have refused to comment.

Brown said the settlement and guilty plea by Orland were a "giant step forward for the closure that she needs."

Brown also believes a five-year program initiated by Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon to have all District 129 employees trained in reporting possible sexual abuse will make the high school safer. No one faced criminal charges for not reporting Orland's actions to the Department of Children and Family Services.

"(McMahon's) decision on the deferred prosecution was a very reasonable decision. I know some people in Aurora were critical of it," Brown said. "The most important thing is protecting children. That was my client's sole motivation for this case."

McMahon pleased with pay bumps: Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon knows the salaries earned by his staff of assistant state's attorneys will never stack up to those available in the private sector.

But McMahon is pleased county officials have authorized pay bumps for prosecutors bringing them more in line with their counterparts in the collar counties.

First-year prosecutors in Kane County had starting salaries around $40,000 a year in 2012, and McMahon said he was losing talented lawyers to surrounding counties that offered more pay and lighter caseloads.

The Kane County Board gave McMahon's office funding so first-year attorneys will start at $50,000 a year and could move up to a $55,000 starting salary sometime this year.

"We haven't closed the gap entirely. I don't think we have to be equal to every other county. We have to be competitive," McMahon said. "We fell so far behind that to catch up, we needed these two huge steps."

hhitzeman@dailyherald.com

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