The Los Angeles Unified school district put up a new website Tuesday for victims of abuse by teachers at Miramonte Elementary School — and at least one plaintiffs' lawyer is not happy about it.
The one-page site describes the district's most recent offer to a group of 35 alleged victims — but most of it is dedicated to telling parents that if they don't accept the offer before it runs out, they may have to cover some of the district's legal fees down the line.
"To me this is unethical, because it’s a way of communicating to our clients by scaring them," said Luis Carillo, an attorney representing 23 of the alleged victims of sexual abuse by former teachers at Miramonte Elementary School.
The site details Civil Code of Procedure 998, which the district wrote into its offer. The district said those who don't accept the settlement within 30 days will have to cover some of L.A. Unified's legal fees if they don't win a higher award at trial. Those fees would include witness costs, court fees and jury fees — but not the school district's attorney fees.
At the bottom of the page, a large counter ticks off the days, hours, minutes — and seconds — to the deadline. The deadline is just shy of 10 days away.
David Holmquist, general counsel for the school district, said the site is necessary because no one has accepted this round of offers.
"People are asking us, ‘Why don’t they take that settlement? Seems fair to me.’ And so we’ve tried to provide fair and objective, meaningful information," Holmquist said."We’re responsible for tax dollars.”
The website also includes an example of how a proposed structured settlement would pay out money over time to those who accept the offer.
The site, miramontesettlements.com, is in Spanish. A tab at the top takes readers to an English-language version. Miramonte is more than 95 percent Latino, according to the California Department of Education.
Mark Berndt and Martin Springer, two former teachers at the school, are facing separate criminal charges of lewd acts against children. Berndt, who taught at the school for 30 years, has been accused by police of taking photos of blindfolded and gagged students with roaches on their faces or spoons of semen held to their mouths. Both have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In March, the district agreed to pay a total of $29 million to a group of 58 alleged victims of abuse at Miramonte. That works out to an average of $500,000 each, but the actual amounts varied.
The district said 28 plaintiffs did not go through an early resolution process and thus have not received settlement offers yet.