Jury selection began Monday in the civil case against the Los Angeles Unified School District stemming from a sexual abuse scandal at Miramonte Elementary School, even as the two sides continued settlement talks.
Attorneys representing the school district and accusers attended a settlement hearing at midday. The judge in the case scheduled the hearing in an effort to settle the case instead of going through a costly trial.
Attorneys for nearly 70 plaintiffs are expected to argue that the district knew of sexual abuse involving a former schoolteacher at Miramonte Elementary School in Florence and failed to protect students.
The trial comes nearly three years after the arrest of ex-teacher Mark Berndt, who pleaded no contest earlier this year to 23 counts of lewd acts involving a child. The plaintiffs' attorneys claim district officials knew about the dangers of keeping Berndt in the classroom, but did nothing to stop him.
Berndt is serving 25 years in state prison. He never took the stand during his trial to address the allegations.
A spokesman for the two law firms representing LAUSD has said, "We are saddened for all parties to be preparing to start trying these cases, as we know how difficult the litigation process can be. Like the community, we were appalled to learn of Mr. Berndt's deviant behavior, and we share in the pain felt by these children and families. While the full facts of the matter will unfold in the courtroom, we know that Mr. Berndt went to extreme lengths to hide his disgusting fetish."
The case could require weeks of arguments. Prospectives jurors will receive questionnaires Monday that they will return to the court later this week