The district expects insurance to cover all of it.
LA Now Live is a Daily Webcast/Interview/Call-In/”Conversation with the Newsroom” sponsored by the LA Times | This is a transcript of the webcast from last Wednesday | http://lat.ms/WMhDF1
March 13, 2013 | 7:40 am :: Attorneys representing parents in 58 legal claims have agreed to a $30-million settlement with the Los Angeles Unified School District over alleged abuse perpetrated at Miramonte Elementary School.
The settlement, part of an effort by LAUSD and the children's parents to move past the case as swiftly as possible without forcing kids to rehash what they experienced, leaves more than 70 claims still unresolved.
The amount equates to about $470,000 per victim, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The claims stem from abuse dozens of children allegedly endured at the hands of Mark Berndt, 61, who had been a teacher at Miramonte since 1979. He faces 23 felony charges of lewd conduct and is being held in lieu of $23-million bail.
Times staff writer Stephen Ceasar will join us at 9 a.m. to discuss the settlements.
Good morning everyone. We'll get started in a moment.
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:00
Readers, feel free to submit questions. Here is a link to today's story: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0313-miramonte-20130313,0,7536520.story
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:01
Good morning Stephen, thanks for joining us today.
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:02
Good morning, thanks for having me.
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:02
So for folks who haven't read today's story. What is the latest on the Miramonte Elementary School case?
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:03
Yesterday, the first batch of settlements between the district and students were announced. In these settlements, the Los Angeles Unified School District will pay about $30 million to resolve 58 legal claims.
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:04
The claims involve a former Miramonte Elementary School teacher accused of committing lewd acts on children. It is the largest payout in a case involving a single teacher in the district.
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:05
That's a lot of money! How many other claims have yet to be resolved?
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:06
This resolves about half of the identified victims at the school. And there are also about 60 or so claims from parents and guardians of the students.
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:07
Interesting. Did lawyers explain why some settled and why some didn't?
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:08
There are still quite a few that are currently in mediation talks with the district while others have refused to negotiate with them and have sued. Those lawyers say that the amounts are far too low and they believe they can potentially win million-dollar jury verdicts.
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:09
I see. How many lawyers or law firms are we talking about here? It seems like resolving these lawsuits and claims could take awhile.
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:11
This initial batch of settlements represents 14 of the 17 law firms that brought claims to the district -- which are a sort of precursor to a lawsuit.
In 60 other cases, three lawyers have opted out of the mediation talks and have sued the district. They have been determined to take their cases to trial.
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:13
Today's story describes the idea that those who settled wanted to put this case behind them quickly. Can you elaborate on that?
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:15
Sure. By settling, they spare the children from drawn-out litigation that could force them to testify and relive the abuse, their lawyers say. By getting this over with, they can potentially move on with their lives.
One parents I spoke with said she worries how her son will deal with the abuse in coming years as he gets older and understands what happened more. The money they will receive will help pay for his ongoing therapy.
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:19
That makes sense. How much does the settlement break down to per child? And does the 60 remaining claims mean there are 60 other children involved?
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:21
Well, the district would not confirm or deny the number on the settlements. But plaintiffs' lawyers say each victim will receive about $470,000 under the pact.
And yes, there are about 60 other children with claims that have yet to be resolved.
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:24
OK. Though the district has not confirmed or denied the amount, has anyone from the district indicated what a $30 million settlement means for its budget?
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:26
The district has a liability fund, that is used to pay out settlements and will be used to pay these. The district expects insurance to cover all of it. So there is no general fund dollars being spent here.
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:27
I see. So what happens next on the civil side? Are those lawsuits certain to go to trial or is there still a possibility of mediation?
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:29
District general counsel David Holmquist has repeatedly said they are "ready and willing" to enter in to talks with those attorneys who have filed lawsuits. One of the attorneys told us that announcing these settlements is a strategy to get other parents to settle, by putting a dollar amount out there.
That attorney, Luis Carillo, a South Pasadena attorney representing 23 victims, said the amount they're settling for is just too low.
A legal expert we spoke to said that the attorneys who refuse to settle likely know their cases can garner more money through a jury trial verdict.
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:33
Yikes. It sounds like there's plenty of litigating and court appearances to come. Thanks for taking the time to discuss the case with us this morning Stephen. And thanks for joining us readers.
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:34
Come back tomorrow at 9 a.m. for another edition of LA Now Live.
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:35
Wednesday March 13, 2013 9:35
- There were 23 criminal charges filed but there are more than 138 civil actions, 58 of which have been settled – pending approval by the judge – which is by no means guaranteed. I think I kinda/sorta know the answer – but somebody needs to describe the difference between 23 charges and 158+ claims. And someone accountable needs to explain with a straight face why these settlements are secret. That’s the way we always do things won’t cut it!
- “The district has a liability fund, that is used to pay out settlements and will be used to pay these. The district expects insurance to cover all of it. So there is no general fund dollars being spent here.” Really? All is a lot. It’s more than some …or much …or most. With what level of confidence does the district expect insurance to cover all of it? I am a taxpayer – and my credulity is being taxed 100% here!
- Having it both ways when really you’re being had twice:
- Are the settlements and cost of litigation being paid 100% from insurance?
- …or are they being paid from the liability fund – which is General Fund money.
- The premiums for the insurance are general funds too. How much will the premiums increase when the dust clears?
Quoting the quotable Mr. Serna: “Yikes!”