PASADENA (AP) — Two attorneys representing dozens of children in lawsuits brought against the Los Angeles Unified School District over alleged teacher sexual misconduct said Monday they are dropping out of settlement negotiations and want to go trial.
Luis Carrillo and Brian Claypool told a news conference they have received "insignificant" settlement offers from the district for only three of the 35 children and 33 parents they represent in three lawsuits over alleged lewd conduct by a former teacher at Miramonte Elementary School.
The teacher, Mark Berndt, was arrested in January and pleaded not guilty to 23 counts that allege he fed his students his semen on cookies and photographed them in classroom "tasting games." The district faces 189 legal actions in connection with the case.
"The district really does not care about the emotional damage the children have suffered," Carrillo said.
District General Counsel David Holmquist, who said last week that he hoped to settle all lawsuits and legal claims by the end of January, said Monday that he hoped Carrillo and Claypool will continue negotiating to develop a "fair and reasonable" resolution to avoid having children testify in court.
"Our primary goal in this process is supporting the health and wellbeing of the students," Holmquist said in a statement. "We hope that Mr. Carrillo and Mr. Claypool will continue to engage with us in this process because we believe that it provides the best opportunity to develop a solution that is in the best interest of students."
Carrillo and Claypool said they plan to ask a judge on Wednesday to lift a litigation stay to allow them to resume preparing for a trial. The stay, which expires March 1, prohibits them from proceeding with the lawsuit while mediation is ongoing.
"All negotiations have ended," Claypool said. "We plan to proceed to jury trial."
Two other lawyers last week said they also were not participating in the settlement talks and jointly filed four lawsuits against the district.
Carrillo and Claypool presented state auditor's reports from 1997 and from this year that both stated the district needed to improve child abuse reporting procedures, as evidence that the district's negligence is longstanding.
They also presented documents from the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, saying the district has never established clear procedures for principals about maintaining teacher personnel files that contain abuse allegations.
"This is a monumental failure of leadership," Claypool said.
District officials say they have tightened reporting procedures considerably this year in the wake of the Miramonte case.