On the same day that attorneys for students at Miramonte Elementary School announced that four additional lawsuits have been filed against LAUSD over alleged sexual abuse at the school, the district said it faces 189 claims resulting from the scandal. Patrick Healy reports from Downtown LA for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Dec. 5, 2012.
On the same day that attorneys for students at Miramonte Elementary School announced that four additional lawsuits have been filed against LAUSD over alleged sexual abuse at the school, the district said it faces 189 claims resulting from the scandal.
Attorneys at at a press conference Wednesday morning announced the new lawsuits, which were filed Monday and join others actions filed against Los Angeles Unified School District.
The legal mess comes after Miramonte Elementary, in the unincorporated Florence-Firestone area, was rocked by a scandal last winter when longtime teacher Mark Berndt was accused of blindfolding students and feeding them semen-laced cookies, among other alleged crimes.
"I have personally interviewed children who have broken down in tears, telling me what was done to them," said former state Sen. Martha Escutia, who is representing students in the new lawsuits.
In discussing the lawsuits Wednesday, LAUSD general counsel David Holmquist said the district faces 189 claims over the Miramonte alleged abuse. The claims are on behalf of 126 students, with the remainder from their family members, Holmquist said.
Many of those claimants are in settlement talks with the district. Two attorneys -- Brian Claypool and Luis Carillo -- are representing dozens of children whose families sued the school district earlier this year over the Miramonte allegations. In August, a judge ordered a stay those lawsuits to make time for settlement negotiations.
But Escutia and another attorney working with her, John Manly, who previously took on the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles over abuse allegations, said Wednesday they do not want to enter settlement talks in their four cases.
The attorneys said they intend to file 22 more lawsuits against LAUSD.
"When their teacher they trust comes up to them and says this is good for you, they have a right to trust their teacher," Manly said.
Holmquist said the district's settlement process will avoid a lengthy court process that he said could require victims to testify.
"We understand there may be some responsibility, so we want want to try to solve this in the most efficient and equitable way that respects the rights of the students," said Holmquist in an interview with NBC4. "It could be a potentially large financial hit for us. But it's our responsibility to make sure they're made whole."
Berndt faces multiple felony counts and is being held on $23 million jail. Another teacher, Martin Springer, was also arrested and faces related charges.
The case caused an uproar in among district parents, and led to increased scrutiny toward the LAUSD's handling of child abuse cases.
Last week, the California State Auditor released a report critical of the district for failing to properly report abuse allegations and for being slow to investigate them.
The report found that LAUSD was more than one year late in filing 144 cases to the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing about allegations against teachers. The district is required to report such cases to the commission.
On Wednesday, Escutia and Manly said they were spurred on by the state audit report. They demanded that LAUSD release all reports of teacher abuse.
The attorneys stated that the number of victims at Miramonte Elementary is growing, and said that there are other "abusers."
Holmquist, said in a statement early Wednesday that the district said it is seeking to "resolve claims without the pain and cost of lengthy litigation."
"Our sincerest hope is that through this process we can avoid the potential pain of lengthy litigation while promoting healing and improving trust with the community," Holmquist said.
Two additional lawsuits were filed Monday, according to court documents provided by the district after Holmquist's statement was issued. The attorneys said four complaints were filed on behalf of four students.
One, filed on behalf of an anonymous 13-year-old boy, alleges the plantiff was harassed, molested and abused by Berndt. It also alleges that principal Martin Sandoval and Superintedent John Deasy knew of allegations against Berndt.
The other suit, filed on behalf of an anonymous 11-year-old girl, makes similar allegations.
Holmquist said in an interview that 16 groups of lawyers are handling claims against the district, and all but one group -- Escutia and Manly -- have entered an ongoing settlement negotiation process that the district hopes to have concluded by the end of March.
He said the district will have to pay up to $5 million in settlement costs to parties that have filed claims, but anything above that amount will be covered by insurance.