Jury selection began Monday in the first civil trial against Los Angeles Unified stemming from the sex abuse scandal at Miramonte Elementary School, while the judge presiding over the case continued to press attorneys to settle the litigation.
The civil suits stem from the child abuse scandal involving former teacher Mark Berndt, who pleaded no contest to 23 counts of lewd conduct on a child between 2005 and 2010 and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
The district has already settled more than 60 claims for about $30 million over the abuse. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Shepard Wiley continued to press attorneys in the remaining cases to try to reach a settlement before testimony begins in the trial, which involves three former students.
Those settlement talks continued even as jury selection began, with the judge and attorneys screening 75 potential panelists over their ability to serve for an anticipated three-month trial. The pool was narrowed to about 20.
Jury selection was expected to take several days, but it was unclear when opening statements and testimony will begin.
NBC4, citing a source with the LAUSD, said the parties were discussing settlement figures of around $2.5 million per student to resolve the case.
But attorney Luis Carrillo, who represents some of the Miramonte students and their families, said he wants to take the case to trial.
“We’re anxious. We want to get in front of a jury, a representative jury so that the community can see 30 years of abuse,” he said.
More settlement talks are expected on Tuesday. If no deal is reached, jury selection will resume.
Late today, the LAUSD Board of Education added a closed-session discussion of the case to its Tuesday agenda, with the discussion expected to begin at 5 p.m. or later.
Sean Andrade, an attorney for the district, issued a statement saying the district is hoping for “fruitful” discussions with the plaintiffs’ attorneys, but if the case goes to trial, “we remain committed to trying these matters in a sensitive and respectful manner.”
Attorney Brian Claypool, who is representing about two dozen students, told CBS2 the children will “require lifelong therapy.”
Sheriff’s officials said the investigation of Berndt began when a film processor turned over more than 40 photographs of children in a classroom, with their eyes blindfolded and mouths covered in tape. Some of the pictures showed Berndt with his arm around the children or with his hand over their mouths, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
A sheriff’s sergeant said some of the photographs “depicted girls with what appeared to be a blue plastic spoon, filled with an unknown clear/white liquid substance, up to their mouths as if they were going to ingest the substance.” Some photos also showed children with a large roach on their faces, sheriff’s officials said.
Sheriff’s officials said detectives found a blue plastic spoon and an empty container in the trash in Berndt’s classroom. Both items tested positive for semen, and DNA testing matched it to Berndt, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
— City News Service
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