LA school district agrees to record $140 million settlement in Berndt sex abuse case
Lawyers representing the Los Angeles Unified School District have agreed to set up a fund containing close to $140 million as a settlement in a civil case brought by dozens of students over the district’s handling of a case involving a Miramonte elementary teacher accused of sexually molesting the children.
According to KPCC, the $139,250,000 fund will be established allowing “the judge to review each of the claims and assign the appropriate individual amount,” to each of the 82 students who took part in the suit against the district following the arrest and conviction of Miramonte Elementary School Mark Berndt.
Berndt was arrested in 2012 and charged with 23 counts of committing lewd acts on children, and is currently serving a 25-year sentence after pleading no contest to the charges.
According to court documents Berndt was originally accused of feeding students semen-laced cookies and taking pictures of them blindfolded.
Months after Judge John Wiley Jr handed down Berndt’s sentence, a L.A. Sheriff’s Department investigation found that Berndt’s alleged crimes went far beyond the previous allegations and included touching girls’ genitalia, inducing children to touch his genitalia, and exposing his genitalia to students.
Documents made available to the public in September revealed that L.A. Unified had received complaints as far back as 1983 about possible sexual misconduct by Berndt.
The size of the settlement “shows a level of culpability and contrition by the district for what they allowed to happen to these kids,” said John Manly, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. “We hope this sends a message to [LAUSD] that, if you ever do this again, you’re gonna get obliterated,” he added.
This announced settlement is the largest civil settlement L.A. Unified has ever agreed to in a sex abuse case.
Previously the district settled suits brought on behalf of 65 other Miramonte students for a total of about $30 million, according to LAUSD spokesman Sean Rossall.
It’s unclear exactly how much L.A. Unified will have to allocate towards the settlement pool, and how much the district’s insurance companies will pay.
In May 2013, one of LAUSD’s insurers, Everest National Insurance Co., sued the district in an attempt to avoid paying any settlement costs related to child sexual abuse lawsuits.
In the suit, Everest named six other L.A. Unified insurers as defendants, calling on the court to resolve how much liability any of them might have in sexual abuse lawsuit settlements.