Los Angeles school district to pay $88M in two sex abuse cases

The Los Angeles Unified School District has agreed to pay $88 million to settle teacher sex-abuse lawsuits involving 30 children and their families at two elementary schools, plaintiffs' attorneys announced Monday.

The two settlements, $58 million for students at one school $30 million for students at the other, are among the largest in district history after the Miramonte sex abuse case that brought a $139 million settlement. The disturbing details in the Miramonte case brought renewed scrutiny, and national attention to the issue and scores of lawsuits like those in the new settlement were filed.
Gregory McNair, a senior attorney with LA Unified, said the settlement was finalized over the weekend.

"We're glad that we're able to resolve both of these cases so we can avoid potentially painful litigation and put these cases behind us," McNair told the Los Angeles Times. "We're turning a corner here because we've resolved the last two very large cases that were involving the district."

The two veteran teachers involved, Robert Pimentel at De La Torre Elementary in Wilmington and Paul Chapel III at Telfair Avenue Elementary in Pacoima, are each serving long prison terms after pleading no contest in molestation cases.

Eighteen students at De La Torre settled for $58 million and 12 students at Telfair settled for $30 million, their attorneys at the law firm of Manly, Stewart & Finaldi said in a statement.

The schools are at opposite ends of the giant school district and the cases were not connected, but the same law firm represented the victims of both and they were settled at the same time.

The families will receive about $3 million apiece from the settlement.

The lawsuits alleged that the school district didn't take seriously the initial complaints of teachers' misbehavior.

Court documents alleged that Chapel remained in the classroom for six weeks after a parent had complained, and students had confirmed, that he would kiss boys and girls in class.

"These historic settlements occurred because of overwhelming evidence that the District ignored warnings, employee reports and parent complaints that both of these horrible men were molesting dozens of children in the classroom," the plaintiffs' attorneys said in a statement. "These reports made their way to the highest levels of District leadership where they were either ignored entirely or actively suppressed and the predators allowed to remain in the classroom."

The school and district officials named in the lawsuit have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Both cases came to light in the aftermath of Miramonte and teacher Mark Berndt, who was convicted of committing lewd acts on students over several years. Berndt was arrested in 2012.

That 2014 settlement of $139 million came after the district had already settled several Miramonte cases and the actual total is closer to $170 million.