By Matthias Gafni and Theresa Harrington Staff writers Contra Costa Times
Posted: 02/11/2014 12:09:36 PM PST –

CONCORD — Nine alleged victims of Joseph Martin — a former Concord elementary schoolteacher accused of molesting more than a dozen students — sued the teacher, the Mt. Diablo school district and a dozen other current and former employees Tuesday in two separate lawsuits.

Eight of the unnamed boys alleged direct physical and emotional abuse by Martin. The ninth alleged emotional abuse based on witnessing molestation of his brother by Martin, along with other inappropriate behavior.

Both lawsuits accuse principals, superintendents, school board members and the district’s former general counsel of failing to report earlier warnings of abuse by Martin to proper authorities as required by law. In 2006, according to a Concord police report, other teachers at Woodside Elementary complained of suspicious behavior by Martin, and the district launched an internal investigation.

The law firm conducting the investigation for the district found “allegations (against Martin) did at least suggest the subject matter of potential child abuse.”

No one reported the suspicions at the time to law enforcement or Child Protective Services, according to police. This newspaper has sued to get a copy of the 2006 report.

“The damages done by Mr. Martin were immeasurable,” said attorney Stan Casper, who is representing seven boys in his lawsuit, along with another who has filed a claim and is awaiting a response from the district. “But the damage done by the district for … purposely turning a blind eye was far worse and put all of my clients in the cross hairs of a man that they knew to be a predator.”

Martin was arrested last April and has since pleaded not guilty to 125 felony molestation charges involving 13 former students at the Concord school. The case is scheduled for trial in March.

The lawsuits assert the abuse could have been prevented if district officials had reported suspicions about Martin to authorities when they first arose.

“They prioritized protecting themselves rather than the kids,” said attorney Marc Lewis, whose two clients allege the abuse occurred in the 2010-11 and 2012-13 school years.

Many of the accusers described how the popular teacher would massage them under their shirt and fondle their groins while holding a book over their laps in class, according to the lawsuits. Although previous reports have described inappropriate touching outside of the boys’ clothing, Lewis said further investigation has found the molestation was more severe than originally thought in that at least one client was touched under his clothing.

“What we’ve learned is he embarked on a sophisticated and deliberate campaign to single out boys he wanted in his class so he could prey on them,” Lewis said.

As defendants, the lawsuit names the district; Martin; former Woodside Elementary principals Jenny Cronan, Michelle Batesole and Jennifer Sachs; former superintendents Steven Lawrence and Gary McHenry; former general counsel Greg Rolen; former trustees Gary Eberhart, Dick Allen and April Treece, and a representative for the estate of William Leal; and current board member Linda Mayo.

The district referred calls Tuesday to the law firm Meyers Nave. By Tuesday afternoon the firm had not returned calls or emails requesting comment. Eberhart and McHenry declined to comment, and the other defendants could not be reached.

Martin was known for his unconventional teaching techniques, performing and recording musicals with his students, and decorating his classroom to block the windows.

Martin began working in the district in 1991 and was placed on administrative leave in April 2013 after a parent reported the allegations to the principal, who allowed Martin to return the class to say goodbye, Casper said. The principal then notified a district administrator, who called police.

Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him on Twitter. Contact Theresa Harrington at 925-945-4764. Follow her on Twitter.