LAUSD to pay $6.9 million in abuse case; Miramonte could be costly
As the Los Angeles Unified School District tries to settle claims filed in connection with a teacher who allegedly molested children at Miramonte Elementary School, a jury awarded $6.9 million to another district student in a separate sexual abuse case.
The size of verdict -- among the largest ever awarded in a district molestation case – suggests L.A. Unified could end up paying a large amount of money to wrap up the close to 200 pending legal claims related to the Miramonte teacher.
Lawyers for L.A. Unified recently announced the district intends to settle the Miramonte claims by the end of January. The claims accuse the district of not doing enough to protect students from veteran instructor Mark Berndt, even after fielding complaints about inappropriate conduct at the school.
Berndt, who has been charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct, is accused of spoon-feeding semen to blindfolded children as part of what he allegedly called a tasting game. He's also accused of putting cockroaches on children's faces and feeding them semen-tainted cookies.
Tuesday's judgment centered on whether the district bore responsibility for acts committed by Forrest Stobbe, who molested a fifth-grade student at Queen Anne Place Elementary School over several months. In September 2011, Stobbe pleaded no contest to two counts of a lewd act on a child and to continuous sexual abuse of a child younger than 14. He is currently serving a 16-year prison sentence.
Attorneys for the school system insisted that district staff could not have known what Stobbe was doing. But the plaintiffs argued there were abundant warning signs, including when a girl in Stobbe's class said the teacher had stroked her hair and touched her buttocks.
"Some of the same issues in the Miramonte case are highlighted here," said attorney Don Beck, who represented the student Stobbe molested, "the same lack of monitoring teachers, the same lack of supervision that allowed these events to happen."
-- Howard Blume and Stephen Ceasar
Photo: Attorneys John Manly and Martha Escutia announce new lawsuits related to alleged abuse at Miramonte Elementary School. At right is a poster of teacher Mark Berndt, who has been charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times