Update 5:15 p.m.: The court arguments
L.A. Unified lawyer Sean Andrade said the District got the photos after Mark Berndt’s arrest in January 2012. He said some came from law enforcement, and that some were acquired during the District’s mediation with lawyers representing children in previous cases that were eventually settled out of court.
Andrade said the District did not disclose or hand over those pictures because of "mediation privilege." Plaintiff’s lawyers challenged that contention. Then another L.A. Unified lawyer, Tom Delaney, offered to give the photos to Judge Wiley.
Wiley declined to make a decision on the matter. He ordered both sides’ attorneys to meet to try to resolve the dispute.
Several plaintiff’s attorneys expressed anger that they are only learning of this new set of photographs now.
"At the very beginning of the litigation [roughly two years ago] we started asking for any photographic evidence they have of the abuse, or of children being abused, or children in Mr. Berndt’s class," plaintiff’s lawyer Vince Finaldi told KPCC, adding that in response to these "dozens and dozens of requests for photos," L.A. Unified’s response was always, "'we don’t have any photographs, not a single photograph.'
"The LAUSD has stifled our efforts to obtain critical information and evidence necessary to prepare the case for trial," said Finaldi, arguing that the photos were withheld because "the information is bad, and that’s why they don’t want us to have it."
The photographs could help identify children "who we know were abused and that we don’t have photos for," said Finaldi. They could also help identify "where these kids were being abused, or potentially during which school year they were being abused," he added.
L.A. Unified spokesman Sean Rossall issued a statement regarding Thursday's court hearing: "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."
Separately, Judge Wiley issued a ruling regarding lawyers’ access to some of the 600 photographs in the Sheriff’s report on its investigation into Berndt. Up until now, the attorneys have only been allowed to see 20 or 30 of those pictures, according to plaintiff’s lawyer John Manly. On Thursday Wiley ordered that an additional batch be made available to the attorneys.
The L.A. Unified School District has admitted that it has additional photos related to former Miramonte Elementary School teacher and convicted sex offender Mark Berndt and that, until now, it had kept that information from the judge hearing a civil lawsuit against the district and plaintiff’s attorneys in the case.
According to court documents, there are 600 photos in a Sheriff's investigative report on Berndt. In a court hearing on Wednesday regarding the Sheriff’s report, L.A. Unified attorney Sean Andrade revealed that the district has another set of photos related to the case.
"What photos?" asked a surprised plaintiff’s attorney John Manly.
Andrade offered to supply the photos to the court. He did not say how many there are, or what is in them.
Judge John Wiley Jr. ordered a halt to the conversation, saying the parties could discuss it in court Thursday.
That hearing is underway now.
On Wednesday, Judge Wiley revealed previously undisclosed allegations that Berndt had gone beyond feeding semen-laced cookies to his students and taking pictures of them with tape over their eyes and mouths.
In a summary of the Sheriff's report, Wiley noted that the investigation found that Berndt had touched girls' genitalia, induced students to touch his genitals, and exposed himself to students.
Also on Wednesday, KPCC reported that L.A. Unified had destroyed roughly 20 years' worth of records containing allegations of sexual abuse in public schools.
This story will be updated.