Education

LAUSD fires controversial lawyer in sex abuse case — again

FILE: For a second time, the Los Angeles Unified School District has fired an outside attorney representing it in an ongoing sex abuse case.
FILE: For a second time, the Los Angeles Unified School District has fired an outside attorney representing it in an ongoing sex abuse case.
File photo by Letsdance Tonightaway/Flickr Creative Commons

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For the second time in 11 months, an outside trial lawyer hired by the Los Angeles Unified to represent the school district in a sex abuse case has been pulled off the job.

W. Keith Wyatt represented LAUSD in arguing that a Los Angeles middle school student was mature enough to consent to sex with her 28-year-old teacher.

After suggesting in comments to KPCC last year that the girl bore responsibility for her abuse and that the girl’s decision to have sex with her teacher was less dangerous than crossing the street, Wyatt was removed from any cases representing the school district.

But then earlier this year, Wyatt was quietly rehired. The Los Angeles Times reported this month that Wyatt worked on five cases for the school district in February and June.

Asked to explain the rehiring, the district said Wyatt's suspension from legal work had been “sufficient to drive home our concerns about statements he made.”

School board members, including Monica Ratliff, complained of Wyatt’s rehiring.

Now, the district has reversed course. In a statement, LAUSD General Counsel David Holmquist said: “The attention surrounding Mr. Wyatt’s out-of-court statements has made it increasingly difficult for us to do the work that we do, and to properly represent the District.”

Holmquist said “after reviewing the totality of the circumstances, I believe it is in the District’s best interests to take this action at this time.”

Wyatt could not be reached for immediate comment.

The action follows a protest Tuesday at LAUSD headquarters by parents of students involved in the Miramonte sex abuse case, which the district has paid millions to settle. Led by plaintiffs attorney Michael Carillo, the group objected to the methods used by district attorneys in sex abuse litigation.

Wyatt’s arguments in the case involving Thomas Edison Middle School math teacher Elkis Hermida and his underage student initially helped win the case in LAUSD’s favor. But the student’s lawyers won an appeal last month that overturned that earlier decision.

Despite its latest firing of Wyatt, the district continues to fight the student's lawsuit.

On Monday, LAUSD lawyers filed an appeal with the California Supreme Court to uphold the earlier ruling in its favor.

At issue is whether L.A. Superior Court Judge Lawrence Cho acted properly in instructing jurors deciding whether the school district negligently supervised Hermida. The jurors were advised to base its decision on whether officials knew or should have known that the teacher had a “dangerous propensity” for sexual abuse instead of a “potential” for abuse.

LAUSD is arguing that the student suing the district should be made to prove that officials knew or should have known that the teacher had a "dangerous propensity" to abuse — a standard that would be more difficult for the student to prove.

Lawyers for the girl in the case said they’re troubled that the district is arguing to use “dangerous propensity” as a measure for an employee’s risk for abuse.

“That they are the ones fighting for a lower bar for themselves when it comes to children being molested on campus is absolutely astounding to me,” said Frank Perez, a lawyer for the student.