A judge on Thursday gave Los Angeles Unified School District attorneys 24 hours to produce photos they believe to be privileged evidence in the Miramonte child abuse case.
During a sworn deposition last week with former chief risk manager for the district, Gregg Breed, statements made revealed what plaintiffs claim was a malicious attempt to keep evidence out of the case.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs claim Breed testified that the district had photographic evidence of child abuse by teacher Mark Berndt in digital form.
"We asked the district under oath, 'do you have photographs?' They said 'no,'" says Miramonte victims attorney Brian Claypool. "That is a lie. We want the photographs."
In a statement from Sean Rossall of Cerrell Associates, hired exclusively to handle Miramonte-related media inquiries, he said, "We informed plaintiffs early in the litigation that the school district received photos from law enforcement. The school district did not produce the sheriff's photographs to plaintiffs based on the same privacy considerations consistently raised by the sheriff and affirmed by Judge Wiley today."
LAUSD defense attorney Tom Delaney explained to the judge that the photos came from mediation talks with victims who later settled their claims with the district in February of 2013.
Wiley requested the photos be turned over, at which point he would consider if they would be disseminated to the plaintiffs.
"There have been moments in depositions where we just go, 'wow,'" said victims' attorney Luis Carrillo.
Carrillo says the district has blocked nearly every motion for evidence plaintiffs have requested.
"The release of greater information will serve the public good because it will serve as lessons to administrators and educators nationwide what not to do when confronted with teachers sexually abusing kids," Carrillo said.
Victims attorney Vince Finaldi says the new revelation of the photos has caused the case to hit a speed-bump of sorts, and thinks some of the 50 people already deposed may have to be called back to testify again.
"It's ludicrous," said Finaldi, "because we've been taking all these depositions under a false impression that they don't have any photographs of the actual abuse."
Claypool went a step further, claiming he would ask the judge to reprimand the district for not having released the photos previously, saying, "We intend on filing a motion with the Court to have LAUSD monetarily sanctioned for having lied about not having all of these photographs."
LA Superior Court Judge John Wiley, Jr. has not decided when he would rule on the photographs. In court Thursday he admitted the photographic evidence is somewhat unique in child abuse cases.
Finaldi agreed, saying, "When you do have evidence like that, it's the most powerful evidence to produce to a jury because it shows the actual abuse occurring." Plaintiffs say they had been requesting the photos since first filing suit in 2012, just after Berndt was arrested for lewd acts with children.
Rossall says it was during the discovery process in 2013 that the District informed the plaintiffs about the photos, which may or may not be duplicates to what the LA County Sheriff's Department has in its 512-page investigation. The contents of that investigation remains redacted for the most part and has not been made public.
Get Los Angeles's latest local news on crime, entertainment, weather, schools, COVID, cost of living and more. Here's your go-to source for today's LA news.
Judge Wiley did, however, allow for the release of 130 names and contact information of witnesses the department interviewed over its two-year investigation.
Letters are expected to go out in the coming weeks and will allow those named 10 business days to respond and either opt-out or opt-in to allowing plaintiffs' attorneys to contact them.
Rossall sent NBC4 a statement about today's proceedings saying, "We appreciate the court's time and attention to ensuring that the privacy of children involved is protected, while ensuring an appropriate exchange of information between all parties." The Miramonte trial is set to begin July 8.