A Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Monday compelled LAUSD attorneys to turn over a sworn declaration of an employee that could prove the district knew it had copies of child abuse reports, even after it swore it did not.
LA Superior Court Judge Mary H. Strobel gave the attorneys until Oct. 3, saying the declaration was already nearly two weeks overdue, the district having missed the Sept. 19 deadline.
In a statement to the court, attorneys for LAUSD said the declaration had errors and needed to be corrected.
Top news of the day
Craig Barnes, an attorney representing LAUSD, said they had not been able to reach the employee who wrote the sworn statement, Rosa Gianopoulos, saying she had been on medical leave since Sept. 22 and would not return until Oct. 5.
Plaintiffs Attorney Luis Carrillo objected to part of the judge's order.
"We don't trust them at all, your honor," Carrillo said, claiming he was worried the district would fabricate testimony if given the additional time to "correct" the declaration.
Strobel responded, "If they do, they do."
Strobel said she wanted a declaration to be submitted but was not clear about whether the original declaration would be submitted or an amended one.
"They should be ordered to produce the original sworn testimony," said plaintiffs attorney Andrew Zeytuntsyan. "It's very frustrating that they continue to manipulate evidence by the district's lawyers, and we ask that they be ordered to produce the original testimony."
Strobel insisted her decision was to reach out to Gianopoulos and get to the bottom of her declaration, whether she knew if copies of "Suspected Child Abuse Reports" existed.
Another attorney for the plaintiffs, Vince Finaldi, asked the judge to order that the district preserve the original declaration in the event a motion is filed to look into the change the district may adopt.
The judge looked at the attorneys for LAUSD and said, "Fine. Don't destroy it."
At issue is whether Gianopoulos' original testimony made claims of who ordered her to make scans of SCARs in 2008-2009.
Plaintiffs attorneys believe she scanned some 260 reports but that the district denied any copies still existed.
They believe the district will attempt to change Gianopoulos' testimony before it is submitted Friday.
"The bad news is that gives them five extra days to pound the employee to try to get her to give a different declaration that would favor the school district," said attorney Carrillo, saying her testimony could prove LAUSD had digital copies of what it claimed in May it had destroyed.
Attorney Brian Claypool says it's "par for the course" for LAUSD.
"The district lied a couple months ago when they told you that they had destroyed thousands of suspected child abuse reports from 20 years ago," said Claypool.
The district has since said it found at least two boxes of the SCAR reports, which plaintiffs argue could hold key evidence about former Miramonte third grade teacher Mark Berndt, including a 1983 allegation that he exposed himself to students while at a museum.
Submitted with the ex-parte motion for the hearing, was the May 1983 hand-written note from Berndt thanking the principal at the time for her support, "P.S." it read, "I did learn one thing for sure, not to take students to the museum while wearing baggy shorts! Thanks, Mark."
A spokesman for the LAUSD denies there's any attempt to have Gianopoulos lie in her declaration.
"I think that's completely without merit," said Sean Rossall of Cerrell Associates, hired to handle child abuse media inquiries exclusively for the LAUSD Office of General Counsel. "I think what you find is that a lot of the plaintiff's counsels want to come out here and claim something that's untorrid when there's really nothing there to claim."
Rossall says the reason the LAUSD doesn't want to submit the original declaration of Gianopoulos is because it was factually incorrect.
"Our focus is on making sure there there's accurate information out there," Rossall said.
In an additional statement regarding why the district did not want to submit the original declaration in the interest of transparency, Rossall said, "We've been transparent with the declaration.
"We have transparently communicated with the court and plaintiffs' counsel on this matter. As we have stated, we want to ensure that accurate information is provided to the court - we would hope that accuracy is what plaintiffs' counsel would also want.
"Gianopoulos has been out ill," he continued. "Unfortunately, it is becoming too routine for plaintiffs' counsel to suggest something sinister (or torrid) happened."
The case is set for trial Nov. 4.