Matef Harmachis | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Lawyers representing a former Santa Barbara High School student, Jane OB Doe, said on Tuesday that they reached a $950,000 settlement in a lawsuit against the Santa Barbara Unified School District and ex-teacher Matef Harmachis. 

The civil complaint was filed on November 30, 2020, by Manly, Stewart & Finaldi — the same law firm that represented victims of former USC gynecologist George Tyndall and former Olympic Team doctor Larry Nassar, resulting in multimillion-dollar settlements in both cases — in the County of Santa Barbara Superior Court against Harmachis and the school district for, among other things, sexual battery, sexual assault, and negligent supervision, hiring, and retention. 

According to the plaintiff’s lawyers, Harmachis sexually harassed and groped Jane OB Doe while she was a 16- and 17-year-old student at the school. They argued that the district should have done more to keep Harmachis out of the classroom and away from students. 

Harmachis was never criminally convicted, however, of any of the charges in the civil complaint. He was only arrested and sentenced for misdemeanor battery of Jane OB Doe in 2017, following an incident in which Jane OB Doe alleged that Harmachis had bit or nibbled her ear while in the classroom.

The lawsuit states that in 2017, Harmachis pled no contest (an acceptance of a conviction without factual admission of guilt) to the misdemeanor battery charge, a conviction which has since been set aside and dismissed. He was not allowed in the classroom again once the district learned of the charge, and in March 2020, he had his teaching credential revoked by the state and was officially terminated by the district. 

“I have never seen a case where a school district ignored so many red flags and allowed a dangerous individual to have unfettered access to vulnerable students,” said Morgan Stewart, the victim’s attorney.

Harry Harrison, the school district’s defense counsel, said there was no admission of liability on behalf of the district and that the settlement was negotiated short of trial through the district’s insurance carrier. He said all settlement and court costs will be covered by the district’s insurance, as well. 

The Independent reached out to Harmachis’s attorneys for comment but did not hear back by press time.

Controversy surrounding Harmachis has become as ingrained in his history with the school district as the subjects he taught. The plaintiff’s lawyers stated that he had a 15-year history of alleged classroom misconduct and inappropriate behavior with students, dating back to 2004 when the then Dos Pueblos High School economics teacher was accused of cursing out twin brothers visiting his classroom and then forcibly removing one of them for wearing an Israeli police department T-shirt.

Following the T-shirt incident — which also surfaced separate allegations of sexual harassment toward a former female student at Dos Pueblos — Harmachis was reprimanded and placed on administrative leave until 2005, at which time he was transferred to Santa Barbara High School. 

However, following subsequent charges of alleged misconduct by Harmachis, and despite a number of students and co-workers at his defense, he was again suspended with pay for nearly five years. 

The district spent more than $1 million in legal fees attempting to terminate the teacher, but it was unsuccessful because he was not convicted, and Harmachis was ultimately reinstated in 2009. At the time, the Commission of Professional Competence found that Harmachis showed “unfitness to teach in some respects,” but that the “conduct does not show such unfitness to teach as to warrant dismissal.”

“The district made every effort to have him not return,” Harrison said. “But its hands were tied … it had no choice but to reinstate him.”

Clarification: This story was updated on June 26 at 1:35 P.M. to include the clarification that Matef Harmachis was not criminally convicted of any of the charges in the civil complaint, and to add the definition of a no contest plea.


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