Crime & Justice

LAUSD removes attorney who argued middle schooler can consent to sex with teacher [updated]

Former LAUSD teacher Elkis Hermida was convicted in 2011 of lewd acts with a child and sentenced to three years in state prison. In a civil trial, attorneys for the district cited a 2009 legal ruling by the U.S. District Court for California's Central District that said in certain circumstances a minor can consent to sex.
Former LAUSD teacher Elkis Hermida was convicted in 2011 of lewd acts with a child and sentenced to three years in state prison. In a civil trial, attorneys for the district cited a 2009 legal ruling by the U.S. District Court for California's Central District that said in certain circumstances a minor can consent to sex.
California Department of Justice

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The trial attorney who argued in court that a 14-year-old Los Angeles middle school student was mature enough to consent to having sex with her 28-year-old teacher will no longer be representing the school district in legal matters.

L.A. Unified said its decision was the result of comments attorney W. Keith Wyatt made to KPCC.

Here's the full statement, attributed to the district's general counsel, Dave Holmquist:

Our deepest apologies go out to the young woman and her family, who were hurt by the insensitive remarks of Mr. Wyatt. As a school district building and maintaining a strong sense of mutual trust with our students and their families is at the core of being able to provide a safe and productive learning environment. We are very proud of the relationships we have with the children and families we serve.

Mr. Wyatt’s comments yesterday were completely inappropriate, and they undermine the spirit of the environment we strive to offer our students every day. This spirit drives more than just our actions in the classroom, it defines how we approach all of our work—especially the way we discuss and handle the sensitive litigation matters that we deal with. These comments were a total violation of that spirit. Respect and empathy must be at the core of how we approach these cases, and Mr. Wyatt’s remarks did not reflect that commitment.

Wyatt had come under fire for his remarks to KPCC, particularly his assertion that "making a decision as to whether or not to cross the street when traffic is coming, that takes a level of maturity and that's a much more dangerous decision than to decide, 'Hey, I want to have sex with my teacher.'"

Wyatt - who works for the firm of Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt - had apologized Thursday for his remarks, calling them "ill thought out and poorly articulated."

L.A. Unified spokesman Sean Rossall said the district will continue to work with Wyatt's firm, which is representing LAUSD in 18 lawsuits.

Meanwhile, State Senator Ted Gaines (R-Roseville) told KPCC that in response to Thursday’s story he plans to introduce legislation to ensure that lawyers will not be able to argue in civil cases that a minor is mature enough to consent to sex with an adult.

KPCC's story highlighted a conflict in California law: while the age of consent is firmly set at 18 in criminal cases, at least two appellate court rulings have found that in civil cases, it is possible to argue that a minor can consent to sex with an adult. 

“I’m a father of five daughters, age 12 through 26, and so when I think of a 14-year-old being treated like an adult when it comes to consent to have sex with a 28-year-old, that’s outrageous in my mind,” said Gaines.

"I was not aware of the inconsistency in these sorts of...cases," the senator said. "It’s so common sense that we would take this approach and make sure that it’s consistent on both the civil and criminal side."

Gaines said his staff is working to draft a bill, which he hopes to introduce as soon as possible. "We’re moving on this just as quickly as we can," he said.

This story has been updated.