Los Angeles School District Settles with Some Plaintiffs in Elementary School Sex Abuse Case

Nearly 200 claims were filed with the district after the arrest of Mark Berndt and another Miramonte teacher one year ago

By Patrick Healy and John Cadiz Klemack
|  Tuesday, Mar 12, 2013  |  Updated 6:30 PM CDT
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Several groups of parents and former students of accused molestor Mark Berndt have agreed to a multi-million dollar settlement with the Los Angeles Unified School District, sources involved in the negotiation have confirmed to NBC4. Patrick Healy reports for the NBC4 News at Noon on Tuesday March 12, 2013.

Several groups of parents and former students of accused molestor Mark Berndt have agreed to a multi-million dollar settlement with the Los Angeles Unified School District, sources involved in the negotiation have confirmed to NBC4. Patrick Healy reports for the NBC4 News at Noon on Tuesday March 12, 2013.

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The Los Angeles school district has settled dozens of claims in the scandal concerning an elementary school teacher accused of lewd acts involving dozens of students.

Several groups of parents and about half of the students who filed claims against former Miramonte Elementary School teacher and accused molestor Mark Berndt have agreed to a multi-million-dollar settlement with the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Miramonte Abuse Scandal: Timeline of Events

All told, nearly 200 claims were filed, close to two-thirds by students. Of those, 119 participated in mediation, and 58 students are covered in the settlement, according to David Holmquist, general counsel with the LAUSD.

The monetary value of the individual settlements is close to half a million dollars per plaintiff, with the total sum equaling an estimated $30 million according to an attorney for the victims. It could take several months for the judge to approve the settlement, Holmquist said.

The story broke on NBCLosAngeles.com Tuesday morning. The agreement was confirmed to NBC 4 Los Angeles by three attorneys representing more than two dozen of the plaintiffs. Holmquist confirmed the settlement at school district headquarters Tuesday afternoon.

The claims were filed with the district after the arrest of Berndt and another Miramonte teacher, Martin Springer, one year ago. 

Those suing the district agreed to postpone pursuing lawsuits in court to make time for mediation.  That process resulted in the settlement agreement.

However, some two-thirds of the plaintiffs have not yet settled with the district. Those not accepting the terms include families represented by Luis Carrillo, John Manly and Martha Escutia.

"They tried to shove it down our throats," Manly said, criticizing the amount of the settlement offer as "small" for this type of case. "After attorneys' fees, there's not enough for counseling for most of our families."

Manly said he and his plaintiffs also feel it is unwise to settle until the legal discovery process has provided more information regarding the district's culpability. No documents have been provided, nor have there been any depositions, according to Manly, who represents 30 plaintifffs. 

If unable to reach more favorable terms, Carrillo's group of plaintiffs "will go forward" with litigation, he said.

The civil settlement agreement does not affect the criminal cases against the former third-grade teachers. Berndt is accused of blindfolding students and feeding them his bodily fluid, sometimes taking photographs. The initial investigation was prompted by a South Bay film lab contacting law enforcement about photos of children brought in to be developed. 

Springer is accused of improperly touching a child in his classroom. Springer's case has already been through preliminary hearing and is headed to trial. Berndt awaits his preliminary hearing.

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