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Los Angeles schools to pay $30 million in teacher’s sexual lewdness case

Posted at 6:14 PM, Mar 13, 2013
and last updated 2013-03-13 18:14:41-04

LOS ANGELES (CNN) — The Los Angeles public school system is going to pay $30 million to settle 58 of 191 students’ lawsuits alleging they were victims of sexually lewd acts by an elementary school teacher, two of the plaintiff attorneys said.

David Holmquist, general counsel for the Los Angeles Unified School District, confirmed the settlements in 58 cases but declined to state the exact financial figure other than so say the amount was in the “multimillions.”

The two plaintiff attorneys provided the figure on the condition that they wouldn’t be identified because a Los Angeles County judge has yet to approve the settlement.

Holmquist described the agreements as “good settlements.” However, four of the 17 law firms suing the school district haven’t agreed to any settlement, attorneys said.

The nearly 200 students’ claims were filed in the wake of charges against former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, 62, who pleaded not guilty last year to allegations he put young students in bondage and then photographed them with semen-filled spoons held at their mouths and 3-inch cockroaches crawling across their faces.

Berndt is being held on $23 million bond and faces 23 felony counts of lewd acts on a child. The 23 alleged victims were between 7 and 10 years old, and all but two of them were girls, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has said.

Several of the plaintiff attorneys couldn’t say for certain this week whether any of the 23 alleged victims in the criminal case are among the 58 civil settlements.

Taxpayer money and possibly school insurance funds will pay for the settlements, Holmquist said. The two goals of the settlements are to “restore some healing to the community” and “provide for health and education needs for the students going forward,” he said.

“We’re not admitting liability, but we realize it’s a tragic circumstance for sure,” Holmquist said. “Students have definitely suffered, so in what we think is in the best interest of students, we thought we would put this behind us by resolving it through remediation and early dispute resolution.”

The school system has “every reason to believe the judge will approve” the settlements, Holmquist said.

In the 58 settlements, each student and his or her family is receiving about $400,000 to $500,000 each, the plaintiff attorneys said.

Luis Carrillo, one of the attorneys who have declined to settle with the school system, said the district isn’t acting in good faith.

“The last agreements that the district has settled before Miramonte were a much bigger amount and I think the amount of money they are offering now is very, very low in comparison to what they have paid in the past,” Carrillo said.

“We think the amount of money that they are getting right now is insufficient for the huge damage they have caused to the children,” he said.

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