BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The case of a Wasco High School assistant football coach convicted by way of a plea agreement of sending sexually explicit messages to a minor has evolved into a second showdown — this one over whether the Wasco Union High School District is liable for his actions.
Miguel Nicholas Saldana was a 23-year-old volunteer football coach; his victim was a 16-year-old student. Saldana, an assistant coach for the Wasco Tigers who worked as a Kern County detentions deputy, used social media to send sexually explicit photos of himself to the girl, then a student at the school.
He was arrested in 2018 after the girl told her mother, who then notified the school. Just this month Saldana pled no contest to a felony charge related to his contact with a minor, and among other penalties was sentenced to six months in jail, community service and felony probation — and he must register as a lifetime sex offender.
Now the girl’s attorneys, Chain Cohn Stiles, have filed a suit against the Wasco Union High School District alleging failure to properly supervise the volunteer coach. But the law firm hired by Self-Insured Schools of California to defend against the suit – SISC has a joint operating agreement with, but is otherwise not affiliated with the Kern County Superintendent of Schools — has issued a preemptive warning in response.
Michael Kellar of the Bakersfield law firm Robinson & Kellar said in a letter to Chain Cohn Stiles that it must either explain in a non-courtroom meet-and-confer how the school district is responsible for the off-campus actions of a non-employee volunteer or be prepared to pay the school superintendent’s attorney fees, which could be as high as $70,000.
“We are representing a school district, which is a public entity, and the defense of this litigation is being paid for through public funds,” Kellar sad.
Matt Clark of Chain Cohn Stiles criticized Robinson & Kellar’s threat to countersue his client, who is now a 19-year-old medical services student.
“How would you interpret it?” Clark said. “I mean, it’s a threat, right? There’s a ‘Back off, dismiss your lawsuit or, should you ultimately lose, we’re going to pound you to the tune of $70,000.'”
Case law in matters like these — where someone hired by or otherwise representing a school commits an offense — are mixed. Factors include whether the illegal actions took place on school property, and whether the school could or should reasonably have known about the behavior. Clark says this case checks both boxes.
“The moment that you become a coach of that football team … let me tell you something: He sent her pictures of him in his coaching uniform,” Clark said. “‘Wasco Tigers’ on the shirt.”
The combatants have yet to meet in court, and it’s not certain if they ever will. But the jousting has begun.
This story has been updated to reflect that Robinson & Kellar was hired by Self-Insured Schools of California and not the Kern County Superintendent of Schools. SISC has a joint operating agreement with KCSOS.