First Miramonte civil trial scheduled to begin on Wednesday
Vanessa Romo | November 3, 2014
The first civil trial against LA Unified over the sex abuse scandal at Miramonte Elementary School is headed to court later this week but first, a County Superior Court judge has ordered the two sides to meet for a last ditch effort to settle the case.
Judge John Shepard Wiley has ordered the district to meet with three of the student plaintiffs tomorrow in a final effort to reach a settlement, otherwise jury selection begins Wednesday. Dozens of other plaintiffs are lined up for other civil trials.
The civil suits stem from the child abuse scandal involving former teacher Mark Berndt, who pleaded no contest last year to 23 counts of lewd conduct on a child between 2005 and 2010. He is now serving a 25-year sentence, a punishment the judge in the case called “a life sentence” due to Berndt’s advanced age.
“We are saddened for all parties to be preparing to start trying these cases, as we know how difficult the litigation process can be,” said Sean Rossall, a spokesman for the school district and its outside lawyers who are handling the case.
“Like the community, we were appalled to learn of Mr. Berndt’s deviant behavior, and we share in the pain felt by these children and families,” he said. “While the full facts of the matter will unfold in the courtroom, we know that Mr. Berndt went to extreme lengths to hide his disgusting fetish.”
Allegations against Berndt first surfaced when a photo processor alerted police of pictures of children in a classroom who were blindfolded with tape on their mouths. Berndt was later accused of feeding students cookies containing his bodily fluids.
So far, the district has settled 65 claims for about $30 million over the alleged abuse. About 70 others are still waiting to go to trial including the three scheduled to start later this week.
* Contains an update on the current number of cases settled by LA Unified.