LOS ANGELES (AP) – The Los Angeles Unified School District hopes to settle 189 legal actions by late January in a case involving a former elementary teacher accused of lewd acts with students that were so shocking, they prompted the district to remove all employees at the school while it did a thorough investigation.
The number of claimants stemming from the case is unprecedented in the nation’s second-largest school district, where lawsuits allege officials did nothing to protect children from the Miramonte Elementary School teacher accused of feeding students semen-laced cookies in what he called “tasting games.”
Former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso is overseeing the mediation process that involves 16 law firms representing 126 students and 63 parents and guardians, said the district’s general counsel, David Holmquist.
Two lawyers representing 26 of the 189 students and parents announced Wednesday they were not participating in the mediation and were instead filing separate lawsuits. Lawyers Martha Escutia and John Manly filed four lawsuits this week, bringing the total number of suits against the district in the case to eight. They said they plan to file 22 more as soon as they can.
Holmquist said the district was taken aback by the lawyers’ action but said he still anticipated they would participate in the settlement, which could come within weeks. March is the outside deadline for the settlement to be reached, he said.
The district is focused on reaching an agreement “that makes sense, protects the students and restores trust,” Holmquist said.
Gregory McNair, chief business and compliance counsel, said the district doesn’t want children traumatized by having them testify in court. “The litigation process can be a brutal process,” he said.
Reynoso, currently a law professor emeritus at University of California, Davis, is being assisted in the case by two other retired judges. He is interviewing numerous families as part of the claim evaluation process, Holmquist said.
Settlement funds would be partially covered by an insurance policy and by the district’s liability fund, Holmquist noted.
The litigation stems from the January arrest of former Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt, who has pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of lewdness for allegedly feeding students semen-laced cookies over five years.
After his arrest, investigators found several hundred photos of children participating in Berndt’s “tasting games,” which involved blindfolding children with cockroaches on their faces, biting into cookies laced with a milky-white substance and being spoon-fed a similar liquid. Investigators said the substance appeared to be Berndt’s semen.
In an unprecedented move, the district removed all employees at the school while it investigated how Berndt’s alleged actions went undetected for so long. The employees were allowed to return to the school, or others, this semester.
The district has assigned 16 psychiatric social workers to Miramonte and surrounding schools, where former students may be located, and has several support programs for parents, said Pia Escudero, director of school mental health and crisis counseling. Attendance at the school is 97 percent.
Lawyers Escutia and Manly said Wednesday they opted out of the mediation talks because the district had stonewalled them on handing over documents about other alleged cases of teacher sexual misconduct.
Holmquist and McNair denied that they held back any documents.
Contact the reporter at
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- 7 common ways to get sued by your employees
- Why it might be time to upgrade your toilet
- Arizona teachers are building a better future by using technology in the classroom
- How to make summer reading fun for the whole family
- How to find relief for chronic joint pain
- Can the NBA Lottery save the Suns?
- Skip Urgent Care: 5 ailments you can treat with telemedicine
- Skin Cancer in Arizona: Stats, facts and new immunotherapy drugs making strides
- Distracted walking injuries end up not so funny
- Scary situations: 5 quick tips before you let a contractor in your home
- Four ways telemedicine is changing the health care industry
- 5 mistakes homeowners make in the spring
- Three rivers run through it: Exploring Arizona's waterways
- Smart home basics: things you need to know to get started
- 5 Surprising things causing back pain
- Arizona agriculture is a $17.1B industry
- Timeline: Arizona's roots in brewing history
- 5 reasons to love the D-backs this season
- Tips for taking your home entertainment experience to the backyard
- Tech-related injuries your parents never experienced
- Workers comp: Signs your co-worker could be a fraud
- Who's the real founder of America's pastime?
- Epidemic rising? What you need to know about Alzheimer's in Arizona
- 5 unforgettable Wooden Award winners
- Family and hard work are keys to success of modern dairy farmers
- Genetic testing could hold answers for colon cancer survival
- Cold beers and baseball: A beer lover's guide to Spring Training
- Telecommuting: 5 tips to make it work for employers and employees
- See how top CFOs feel about economic growth in the Valley
- Migraine myths that keep patients from effective treatments