After the arrest of Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt for molestation, 16 law firms filed suit on behalf of 126 students and 63 parents and guardians. Former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso has overseen a mediation process between the families and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). According to the 4LAKids blog, a settlement may be reached by late January. Two lawyers, representing 26 of the students, were not participating in the mediation and planned to file separate lawsuits. However, the district believes they will ultimately convince them to participate in the settlement.
The lawsuits allege that LAUSD officials did nothing to protect children from the accused teacher. Indeed, there is considerable evidence that the district lost Berndt’s personnel files and failed to act on numerous parental complaints about him. (For more on the history of the case, click here, here and here).
District compliance counsel, Gregory McNair, said the district didn’t want children traumatized by testifying in court, 4LAKids reports. While this is likely true, far more significant factors are cost and damage control. Having to fight several protracted legal battles is extremely expensive, particularly when the district will likely lose and have to pay lawyers’ fees in addition to punitive and personal damages. A protracted legal battle would also likely bring to light even more examples of incompetence on LAUSD’s part and exacerbate public anger and mistrust with the district.