LAUSD must pay $6.9 million in teacher molestation case
Howard Blume -- LA Times/LA Now | http://lat.ms/Ud88uv
December 18, 2012 | 5:16 pm :: A jury awarded $6.9 million Tuesday to a fifth-grader molested by a teacher in a case that could presage the outcome of more than 100 pending molestation and lewd conduct claims against the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The damages may be the largest ever awarded to a single victim in a molestation or lewd conduct case involving the nation’s second-largest school system.
The litigation arose from the criminal acts of Forrest Stobbe, a veteran teacher at Queen Anne Elementary School in the Mid-Wilshire district. 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.
Stobbe molested the 10-year-old while the boy was his student, beginning in October 2008 and running through the following July, when he was arrested.
In the civil litigation the defendant was L.A. Unified and the case turned on how much responsibility the school system bore for what happened. Stobbe had a clean record, but there were previous complaints and incidents that allegedly foreshadowed the later molestation.
The principal and other employees had warnings that something was amiss and could have taken action that would have prevented or limited the abuse, said attorneys for the family.
Attorneys for the school system painted a different picture. They did not question that the young victim suffered a horrible ordeal. But they insisted that the district was not to blame because there was no credible evidence, known to the district, that Stobbe posed a threat to children. Moreover, the district argued, its staff had acted in a professional and appropriate manner.
The case could have enormous financial implications for L.A. Unified. Its liability for molestation by employees does not hinge on the acts themselves, but on the district’s actions and policies that would prevent or respond to harm to children, attorneys for both sides said.
The same issue is likely to come up in litigation attached to the January arrest of Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt. He is suspected of spoon-feeding his semen to blindfolded children as part of what he called a “tasting game,” among other alleged wrongdoing.
Parents had previously called attention to his propensity for taking pictures of students, an issue that administrators did not pursue. L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy himself has criticized that lack of follow-through.
In court, such an oversight could contribute to substantial liability if the Stobbe litigation is any guide.
“Some of the same issues in the Miramonte case are highlighted here,” said attorney Don Beck of the San Diego-based firm Estey & Bomberger, which represented the family. “The same lack of monitoring teachers, the same lack of supervision that allowed these events to happen.”
A district spokesman emphasized the district’s commitment to the safety of children.
“We take our duty to protect our students seriously and are continually looking for ways that we can strengthen our screening and reporting processes to ensure that no child is ever hurt in this way,” said general counsel David Holmquist. “Although we can’t change what happened in this case, we remain committed to doing everything in our power to promote healing and improve trust with those impacted.”
In the Berndt case, 126 students and 63 parents have filed claims for damages against L.A. Unified. There are also six lawsuits on behalf of 37 students and one involving 11 parents.
LAUSD Molestation Lawsuit: Jury Orders School District To Pay $6.9 Million To Molested Boy
by Associated Press from Huffington Post | http://huff.to/12E9P7b
12/19/12 03:07 AM ET EST LOS ANGELES -- A jury ruled Tuesday that the Los Angeles Unified School District must pay a boy molested by an elementary school teacher $6.9 million - among the largest awards in the history of the school system.
The decision comes as the district's attorneys were attempting to quickly settle high-profile sex abuse suits involving nearly 200 plaintiffs stemming from Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, who is alleged to have fed his students semen and has pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of lewd conduct.
In September 2011, Stobbe pleaded no contest to lewd acts on a child and continuous sexual abuse of a child under 14.
But the civil lawsuit was concerned only with the liability of the district.
Stobbe was a veteran teacher with a clean criminal record, but plaintiff's attorneys argued that administrators including the school's principal should have heeded complaints about Stobbe that preceded the molestation.
School attorneys argued that despite the horrible ordeal of the victim, there was no credible evidence known to the district that Stobbe posed a threat.
"We take our duty to protect our students seriously and are continually looking for ways that we can strengthen our screening and reporting processes to ensure that no child is ever hurt in this way," said general counsel David Holmquist. "Although we can't change what happened in this case, we remain committed to doing everything in our power to promote healing and improve trust with those impacted."
The ruling was especially significant with the Miramonte lawsuits looming, setting a high bar financially and demonstrating a jury's willingness to blame the district for the actions of a teacher. Berndt also had a clean record, but parents had raised concerns about the way he had photographed children.
"Some of the same issues in the Miramonte case are highlighted here," said attorney Don Beck who represented the victim's family in the Queen Anne case. "The same lack of monitoring teachers, the same lack of supervision that allowed these events to happen."
LAUSD to pay $6.9 million in abuse case; Miramonte could be costly
-- Howard Blume and Stephen Ceasar | LA Times | http://lat.ms/12Ebvxr
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
December 19, 2012 | 9:06 am :: 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."
smf/See You in Court! – ● This continues the “Who should we name schools after in LAUSD?” discussion: A primary center in Bell has been named after former Senator Martha Escutia (in photo) – who is is now suing the District. Senator Escutia is famed for a law that hastened replacement+removal of “temporary” bungalows-classrooms from school campuses – a mission that has pretty much been abandoned. ● And I’m sure the Disney Company is delighted by that photo of Mark Berndt in panty hose impersonating Mickey Mouse.