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LAUSD faces potential lawsuits over Miramonte

February 13, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Six law firms have called news conferences to denounce LAUSD as they prepare to sue the district.

Former third-grade teacher Mark Berndt is accused of blindfolding students and feeding them his semen on spoons and cookies. Investigators said he took hundreds of pictures of the students, some with live cockroaches on their faces.

Second-grade teacher Martin Springer is accused of fondling a girl in his classroom three years ago. He was released on bail Friday.

Authorities said there are more victims, but parents may be afraid to come forward because they fear deportation. Los Angeles Sherriff Lee Baca is sending a letter to parents, telling them that won't happen and encouraging them to speak to investigators.

The district faces a budget deficit of more than a half-billion dollars, but is likely insured for lawsuits. Litigation is costly.

Stan Goldman, a law professor at Loyola Law School, says a school district may pay off the defendants just to resolve the cases quickly.

But in the criminal case against Berndt, the actions of civil attorneys can be harmful, says Goldman. In court the motivation of the victims may raise questions about their credibility.

"Wait a minute: You didn't come forward until there were already stories about this, already publicity?" said Goldman. "And in fact you didn't come forward until a lawyer contacted you about potentially the possibility of you getting money out of this?"

L.A. County Sheriff's investigators say the civil attorneys create other problems: Young children are easily led to make statements that the interviewer wants to hear. The more times a child is questioned, the more his or her story can be altered from the original.

According to Lt. Carlos Marquez, Sheriff's Special Victims Bureau: "Their story shortens up or it changes because they don't want to talk about it anymore."

The former staff of Miramonte Elementary School was scheduled to arrive for work at a brand new school without students Monday.

The employees were scheduled to report to Augustus Hawkins High School, which is still under construction, to be interviewed by authorities as part of the sex-abuse investigation.

The staff received administrative transfers last week. The Los Angeles Unified School District said if nothing emerges once the investigation is over, the teachers will return to Miramonte.

The teachers union United Teachers Los Angeles wants to make sure that innocent teachers don't end up with a transfer on their personal records.

The district decided to replace the staff after Berndt and Springer were charged with lewd acts on students.