LA Unified faces 4 new lawsuits in Miramonte case
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Attorneys representing victims of alleged lewd acts by a former Los Angeles third-grade teacher filed four lawsuits this week against the school district, after the lawyers refused to participate in negotiations to settle about 175 legal actions stemming from the same case.
Attorneys John Manly and Martha Escutia, who represent 26 alleged victims of former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, said at a news conference Wednesday that they will not participate in the settlement talks because the district has refused to turn over documents in all cases of alleged sexual misconduct by all of its employees.
They said they believe the cases should be made public and turned over to the district attorney for investigation.
Attorneys participating in the talks have agreed to refrain from filing more lawsuits until March, Manly said.
The district is already facing three lawsuits filed by 33 current and former students and 11 parents. About 133 other students and parents have filed legal claims, excluding Manly and Escutia’s clients.
The lawsuits Manly and Escutia filed this week are on behalf of three girls and one boy, ages 9 to 11, who are alleged victims in the criminal case pending against Berndt. The former teacher was arrested in January and charged with 23 counts of lewdness.
Prosecutors say Berndt fed semen-laced cookies to Miramonte Elementary School students over five years in what he called “tasting games.” He has pleaded not guilty.
The district’s general counsel, David Holmquist, said in a statement Wednesday that he hoped Manly and Escutia would join the settlement talks.
“Our sincerest hope is that through this process we can avoid the potential pain of lengthy litigation while promoting healing and improving trust with the community,” he said.
Manly said 22 other lawsuits will be forthcoming as soon as the firms can file them, and he anticipates they will come to trial in the spring.
The purpose of the trials is to hold school officials accountable and expose the system’s failings so such abuse will not occur again, he said.
“How do you explain to these parents that their kids drank their teacher’s semen? That’s a tough one,” Manly said.
Superintendent John Deasy told reporters last week that an independent investigation headed by Los Angeles civil rights attorney Connie Rice and retired state Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno will examine the district’s handling of the situation after the criminal case against Berndt is concluded.