Thirty million was the cost to the Los Angeles Unified School District to settle abuse claims with parents over the actions of a former teacher at the Miramonte Elementary School, according to the announcement made by the plaintiff's lawyers earlier this week. The settlement will result in nearly a half-a-million payout to each family in the group which represents about half the victims currently pursuing claims against the district.
Before the settlement can become final, it needs the approval of a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge. If approved, this will allow the district to bypass litigation that promises to be expensive, lengthy and damaging to the reputation of district officials and difficult on the victims considering their young ages.
L.A. Unified officials would not comment on the settlement amounts. L.A. Unified General Counsel David Holmquist said that the entire process had been very difficult but that it was done to "promote healing in the community."
David Ring, attorney for seven of the victims who settled, said that "this settlement was reached without putting any child through difficult and intense litigation. We acted in the best interests of these children, with the hope that they move on with their lives and try to put the Miramonte nightmare behind them."
Victims alleged that district officials didn't take the necessary steps to uncover abuse by a former Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt, even after a number of complaints had been filed against him by parents. Berndt is currently jailed awaiting trial on 23 counts of lewd conduct and has pleaded not guilty. He's accused of – among other things – feeding students his bodily fluids, on a spoon and baked into cookies, as well as putting cockroaches on their faces.
Nearly two hundred individual claims have been filed against the district in connection with the Berndt affair, representing in excess of 120 students and 60 parents. The latest settlement means that the claims of roughly 70 students remain unresolved and will go to trial unless more settlements can be worked out.
Former state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso and and former L.A. County Superior Court Judge Peter Lichtman oversaw the mediation process between L.A. Unified and 17 law firms. The settlements announced Tuesday included 14 of those firms.
"Through an early resolution process, we've been able to settle a large number of the Miramonte cases in a manner that enables the children and the families to avoid the pains of litigation, but provides fair and reasonable compensation that respects the needs of the students affected," according to a statement by Reynoso and Lichtman.