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Marlborough School settles suit by former student who was sexually abused by teacher

Marlborough School has reached a settlement agreement with Chelsea Burkett, 33, who was impregnated by an English teacher when she was a student there.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael P. Linfield presided over the agreement, whose details have been sealed under a confidentiality clause.

Burkett’s lawyer David Ring also represents another former student who says she was abused by the teacher. The other woman filed her lawsuit under a pseudonym.

“It has been a very difficult road for Chelsea and the other victim,” Ring said in a statement. “We are very pleased that Chelsea’s case reached a resolution against Marlborough.”

In her complaint, Burkett argued that the prestigious private school in Hancock Park, which she attended in the early 2000s, failed to protect her from sexual abuse. She said she suffered years of emotional trauma.

Burkett originally filed the suit under the pseudonym Jane Doe. But this summer she amended it to include her name and has spoken publicly about the case.

The complaint detailed how former English teacher Joseph Thomas Koetters, now 50, singled Burkett out in class and made her feel special and independent, how he gradually pulled her in and convinced her that she was in love with him, and that they were in an adult relationship. The contacts built from emails to sexual acts outside school. She was 16.

When Burkett discovered she was pregnant, she said, Koetters — who was married with children — tried to convince her to have an abortion. Burkett said she became depressed and bulimic and miscarried.

At the time, she said, she told no one. She went to college and business school — compartmentalizing what had happened with Koetters.

Burkett said she relived the trauma in 2014, when she read an anonymous article published by another student that detailed a relationship with a teacher Burkett immediately knew was Koetters. “She came to the slow realization for the first time in her adult life that Koetters’ conduct was the cause for much of her psychological and emotional harm that she had endured for years,” the complaint states.

That summer, the student who wrote the article heard from several others who said Koetters tried to lure them into sexual relationships. After Buzzfeed named Koetters, both Marlborough and Polytechnic School — which had hired Koetters after he left Marlborough — launched investigations.

A report issued in Marlborough’s investigation concluded that its longtime head of school Barbara Wagner had exercised serious errors in judgment. The school conceded that it had received a complaint about Koetters in 2005, but had failed to treat it seriously. The report included an apology to victims, and Wagner stepped down.

In 2015, Koetters was sentenced to a year in jail on charges that he had engaged in sex acts with Burkett and another 16-year-old girl. At that sentencing, Burkett, who had still not revealed her identity, read a victim statement.

“I developed an intense hatred for myself that haunts me to this day,” she said.

“I am so sorry for the hell you’ve gone through,” Superior Court Judge Robert C. Vanderet responded.

Reached by phone, Catherine Conway, an attorney at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which is representing the school, declined to specify why the settlement was confidential. “I really can’t discuss the settlement,” she said. “It’s ongoing litigation.”

A Marlborough spokeswoman declined to comment because of the settlement's confidentiality.

Koetters, who was released from prison in May 2016, could not be reached for comment immediately.

Joy.Resmovits@LATimes.com

@Joy_Resmovits


UPDATES:

2:05 p.m.: This story has been updated with a Marlborough School spokeswoman declining to comment, and Koetters’ release date.

This article was originally published at 1:50 p.m.

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