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Miramonte students seeking more from LAUSD in compensation

Parents of students at Miramonte Elementary School escort children out of school on Feb. 6, 2012.
Parents of students at Miramonte Elementary School escort children out of school on Feb. 6, 2012.
Grant Slater/KPCC

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A lawyer representing 58 students who settled a lawsuit related to the Miramonte sex abuse scandal two years ago said his clients are owed more money because another group of students who settled their lawsuit last fall for $139 million may be paid more, and that violates the terms of the first group's settlement. 

A total of more than 100 students and parents sued the district after former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt was charged with 23 counts of committing lewd acts, including feeding students cookies laced with semen. Berndt is serving 25 years in prison. 

Attorney Paul Kiesel's clients were among the first group of students who settled in 2013 for $470,000 each, a total of $30 million. In a claim submitted to the district on Feb. 6, Keisel argues that settlement prohibits other students from receiving more than his clients.

The settlement for Kiesel's group states that it is the intent of the parties that any future Miramonte-related settlements pay less per plaintiff than the $470,000 figure.  In the case of the suit that was settled for $139 million, a judge is deciding how much each plaintiff will receive; it is expected that some of the students will receive more than $470,000.

Kiesel's complaint seeks the difference between what his clients were paid and the highest amount awarded to students in the second group.

The $139 million settlement was the largest of its kind in Los Angeles Unified School District history. 

If Kiesel's clients prevail, the district's overall tab for the Miramonte case could significantly increase from the $170 million in settlements awarded so far. 

The school district has yet to respond to the claim and declined to comment for this story. 

Kiesel would not discuss the claim in greater detail, but attorney Raymond Boucher, who also represented students in the initial settlement, characterized its language limiting the size of future settlements as a "fairness clause.

"We are talking about a number of young children and you want to make sure they are all treated fairly and equally," Boucher told KPCC. 

Attorney Vince William Finaldi, who represented some of the students in the group that settled for $139 million last November, argued that the earlier settlement would need to include a "most favored nation clause" to prevail in court. 

"It needs to have two elements," Finaldi said. "The first element is a statement by the settling party that 'we agree not to pay anyone else more than X amount.' It also needs a second clause which states, 'in the event we do pay someone more than X amount, then we'll pay you Y amount," Finaldi said. 

The settlement for Kiesel and Boucher's clients does not include language stipulating what would happen if a future settlement pays out more money per plaintiff.

If L.A. Unified rejects Kiesel's claim, then he could ask a mediator or a court to resolve the dispute.