With settlement talks still producing no resolution, jury selection resumed Wednesday in the first trial of lawsuits stemming from the sex abuse scandal at Miramonte Elementary School.

The Los Angeles Unified School District board met behind closed doors Tuesday to discuss the cases, which stem from the actions of former Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison after pleading no contest to 23 counts of lewd conduct with a child between 2005-10.

No details of the settlement proposals have been released. The district has already settled more than 60 claims for about $30 million over the abuse.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Shepard Wiley has been urging the attorneys to try to resolve the case. But with no additional settlements reached, more prospective jurors were brought into court today as attorneys worked to choose a panel to hear the first lawsuits to come to trial.

About 75 prospective panelists were screened Monday for their ability to serve on a three-month trial, and the pool was narrowed to about 20. Another 75 people were brought in Tuesday, with roughly two dozen advancing in the selection process.

The trial involves three former Miramonte students, although dozens of other cases are still pending.

Attorneys contend the district should be held responsible for Berndt’s actions, alleging district officials were aware of complaints about his behavior for years.

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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