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Former Student Awarded $20,000 in Expulsion Case

Trial: A jury agreed that Chaminade High School unfairly dismissed a Canoga Park girl accused in 1996 of drug use.

December 05, 1998|EVELYN LARRUBIA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VAN NUYS — A former student at exclusive Chaminade High School who was kicked out for alleged drug use won a $20,000 judgment Friday against the school for wrongful expulsion.

Cara-Mia Kobzeff, 20, denied any involvement with drugs and accused the school of not following its own procedures. She alleged the school never called her mother, as required by Chaminade policy, and ignored a drug test she passed the day after being accused of using narcotics.

A jury at Van Nuys Superior Court sided with Kobzeff, finding the school was negligent and breached its educational contract. Jurors awarded her family six months tuition--$2,500--for the 1996 spring semester that Kobzeff did not attend and put a $20,000 price tag on the girl's emotional distress for being wrongly booted out during her senior year.

"I lost all my friends," Kobzeff said Friday. "When their parents found out that I was expelled for drugs, I wasn't welcome in people's houses anymore."

Kobzeff said she "walked around with my drug test in my wallet" to prove she was clean.

Chaminade expelled Kobzeff after administrators found a marijuana pipe in her car, according to school President Jim Adams. He said Kobzeff confessed, and other students told administrators she used drugs. He said possession of the paraphernalia was the reason for dismissal.

Kobzeff's lawyer, Michael Bloom, said the confession was coerced by administrators who threatened her with expulsion if she denied drug use, but promised only counseling if she admitted it. Bloom said the pipe did not belong to his client and complained that most allegations against Kobzeff came from students who were not named.

Bloom said Kobzeff denied the pipe was hers and said she had no idea how it got in her car.

"If the jury thought it was her pipe, they wouldn't have done what they did," Bloom said. "That was the whole point of this case, that they were wrong and they were unfair."

One of the students whose statements the school used against Kobzeff also sued the school, alleging administrators coerced her into informing, then failed to protect her identity. Sheila Shilati said she had to transfer to another school because she was insulted and threatened by fellow students after her role was disclosed.

A secret settlement ended that lawsuit in September. The school continues to deny wrongdoing in that case.

Kobzeff said the school sullied her reputation, ruined her friendships and forever stained her educational record.

But Adams, the school president, said he did not take the jury's verdict to mean that the school shouldn't have expelled Kobzeff, only that administrators failed to follow their written policies in doing so. He said the verdict will cause them to change some policies, but he doesn't consider the case a big loss.

"We felt that it was a very small judgment," Adams said of the verdict. "I still think that we made the right decision."

The verdict was an emotional victory for Kobzeff and her family, of Canoga Park.

"We just wanted to be vindicated," said Susan Broadbent, Kobzeff's mother.

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