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L.A. schools will pay victims $139 million in child abuse scandal

The Los Angeles Unified School District will pay out $139 million in settlements in the Miramonte Elementary School child abuse scandal, bringing nearer to a close the costly and lengthy case that led to changes in state law and district policies, attorneys said Friday.

The payouts will go to settle about 150 legal claims from former Miramonte students who were subjected to third-grade teacher Mark Berndt's lewd acts and their families.

"We hope that this will help the communty heal and move forward," said L.A. Unified general counsel Dave Holmquist. "We really want the community to feel healed by this." 

Berndt pleaded no contest to the charges a year ago and was sentenced to 25 years in prison, but the case against L.A. Unified has dragged out.

Dozens of claims were settled last year for about $30 million, but a contingent of parents and students opted to take their grievances to civil court, accusing L.A. Unified of not doing enough to protect students after receiving past...

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Driver thought to be suicidal leads chase from Valley to O.C. to San Diego

A possibly suicidal woman was taken into custody Thursday night after leading police on a high-speed chase spanning multiple Southern California counties.

Los Angeles police alerted law enforcement agencies to look out for the woman, who they said suffered from mental illness and was possibly suicidal, Officer Nuria Vinegas said.

California Highway Patrol officers spotted the SUV she was driving in the San Fernando Valley and tried to stop her, but she continued driving, spurring the pursuit.

She drove from the Valley to Orange County along rain-slick roads, then finally slowed down in San Diego County.

Before stopping, the woman stuck her head and arm out the window, as seen in TV news footage.

The chase finally ended when she stopped on Interstate 5 just south of Oceanside.

She charged toward officers and was taken into custody.

For breaking news throughout California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA. She can be reached at veronica.rocha@latimes.com.

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2014 warmest year: California, world set to break records

This year is on track to be the warmest year on record for California — and the entire planet — according to a new report.

Temperatures in California for the first 10 months of the year averaged 4.2 degrees above the state's 20th century average, according to the report released Thursday by the National Climatic Data Center.

A new record for the warmest year in California history is a virtual certainty, the report said.

Average global temperatures for January through October, meanwhile, also surpassed records set in 1998 and 2010.

In the midst of the warming trend, California continues to struggle with its severe drought.

Eric Luebehusen, a meterologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said in the latest U.S. Drought Map, released Thursday, that "the 2014-15 Water Year has afforded little — if any — drought relief to California."

Rainfall in Central and Northern California over the the last week fell short of normal rain totals, he said. The totals also "did nothing to offset...

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Jailed on word of 'habitual liar,' a convicted killer is declared innocent

A woman freed last month after 17 years behind bars for murder was declared factually innocent Friday by a Los Angeles County judge.

“I’m sorry for what happened to you,” Judge Mark S. Arnold told Susan Mellen after he issued his ruling in a Torrance courtroom. “It is my wish that you have a happy life … and I suspect this is going to be a far better Thanksgiving than the ones you’ve had previously.”

Arnold’s ruling paves the way for Mellen, 59, to receive compensation from the state of $100 for each day she was wrongfully imprisoned — about $600,000. A finding of factual innocence basically means that the defendant did not commit the crime even if found guilty at trial.

Mellen can also answer “no” when asked if she has ever been charged with a serious crime and request that her records be sealed or destroyed.

Since her Oct. 10 release, Mellen has been living with one of her daughters, sleeping on a pull-out sofa in the living room of a two-bedroom apartment. Financially dependent on...

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Immigration reform: The when is now and it's long overdue

Fresh off a victory in which they took control of both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the GOP suddenly finds itself in a jam.

The story of the moment is no longer President Obama's healthcare program, which Republicans have promised to blow up on the way to the presidency in 2016.

It's Obama's immigration reform plan, which he delivered Thursday night in a short speech, laying out the terms by which 5 million or so immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally will have temporary legal protection.

"We are in great shape," Eliseo Medina, an immigration reform activist for many years, said to me in an email.

"People now have proof positive that they can make change, and the GOP is in a box — attack, and make their relations with Latinos worse, or do their own bill and tick off" the more conservative wing of the party by compromising.

When I wrote about Medina earlier this year and mentioned his 22-day fast in Washington, D.C., in 2013, he was optimistic that there'd be reform...

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Jail teacher and inmate student had liaison in classroom, D.A. says

A teacher had sexual contact with a jail inmate she was teaching and now faces a year in jail herself, according to the L.A. County district attorney's office.

Lisa Nichole Leroy, 33, is accused of writing letters to the inmate and engaging in sex acts inside a classroom at Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic.

Leroy pleaded not guilty Thursday to misdemeanor counts of engaging in unlawful sexual acts with the inmate at the all-male facility and exchanging letters, the D.A. says.

Prosecutors said Leroy and the inmate had sexual contact on Oct. 2 inside the classroom at the detention center.

For breaking news throughout California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA

 

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