World

Teacher accused of molesting 23 third-graders wants to use legal status of kids as tool, lawyers say

  • Mark Berndt, right, a former South Los Angeles-area elementary school teacher, in a 2012 file photo.

    Mark Berndt, right, a former South Los Angeles-area elementary school teacher, in a 2012 file photo.  (ap)

  • Students are escorted to a waiting bus as they leave Miramonte Elementary school after classes Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012 in Los Angeles.

    Students are escorted to a waiting bus as they leave Miramonte Elementary school after classes Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012 in Los Angeles.  (AP2012)

Lawyers for the Los Angeles Unified School District have asked a judge to allow the immigration status of victims and their families to be brought up in court for a major sexual child abuse case involving an elementary school.

The civil lawsuit against the school district stems from the Miramonte Elementary School child abuse scandal from 2012 when former third grade teacher Mark Brendt was charged and convicted of molesting 23 children, ages 6 to 10, between 2005 and 2010. 

Brendt, 63, pleaded no contest and is serving a 25-year sentence. All 120 teachers and staff members of that school were fired.

Since then, attorneys representing about 60 students and 40 parents have filed suit against the district, arguing they should be held liable because they knew about Brendt's lewd behavior since 1983, and allowed him to teach for more than three decades

The district has already settled 63 claims for $30 million.

Now, a lawyer representing more than two dozen victims says the school district is trying to intimidate and scare families by asking that their immigration status be known in court. 

"They don't have to bring in this," said the attorney, Luis Carrillo.  "This is just another smoke screen to stir up the jury against the plaintiffs."

The Miramonte school is located in a South L.A. neighborhood that is 98 percent Hispanic.

"This is just another dirty tactic to try to pressure the parents to accepting the crumbs that the parents have already rejected," Carrillo said to ABC 7.

Under California case law, as explained by NBC 4 Los Angeles, in a suit a plantiff's immigration status does not matter unless there is an issue regarding future potential loss of earnings or wages.  

The point is if a family is undocumented the amount of money rewarded to them would be less because they are not entitled to future earnings based on legal U.S. wages.

The Los Angeles school district said it does not plan to include immigration status as part of the case, unless the plaintiffs ask for future potential loss of earnings or wages.

"The school district has not and does not intend to raise immigration status in this case unless first raised by the plaintiffs," read a statement from Sean Rossall, the district's public relations spokesman, to NBC 4. "The lawyers for the school district have an ethical obligation to preserve our right to present a complete story to a jury, protect taxpayer dollars and safeguard educational resources for the more than 600,000 students served by Los Angeles Unified."

Carrillo said a judge could rule on whether immigration status should be allowed in court by the end of the week, but would not say if they will be seeking future wages.

A spokesman for the school district, which is majority-minority, said it has a history of working and supporting students regardless of their immigration status.

"Our recent decision to welcome children immigrating to this country to flee the violence and oppression in Central America is just one example of the school board’s and district leadership’s deep commitment to serving all student’s regardless of immigration status.”