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L.A. Unified asks judge to affirm settlement in molestation case

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L.A. Unified asks judge to enforce settlement in molestation case
L.A. Unified requests hearing to enforce settlement agreement in molestation lawsuit

The Los Angeles Unified School District on Friday requested that a judge approve a settlement agreement with the family of a student who alleged he was molested by a former Telfair Elementary School teacher.

District officials contend that they had reached a settlement in the case involving Paul Chapel III, a former third-grade teacher, but that the family walked away from the pact following the conclusion of two other related claims.

Attorney Thomas Cifarelli, who represents the boy and two other students who also had settled claims, said the mother changed her mind after learning the scope of the case. He said that she no longer felt that the agreement was appropriate.

“The settlement is not in the best interests of the child,” he said. “They [L.A. Unified] are now trying to force the mother to accept that settlement and we are very confident that they won’t succeed.”

District officials and Cifarelli would not comment on the amount of the settlement. A hearing was scheduled for Monday. 

Chapel pleaded no contest to 13 counts of lewd acts on a child in 2012 and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. The molestations of seven girls and six boys occurred from September 2006 to April 2011, officials said. All the children were students at Telfair in Pacoima.

Last month, the district agreed to pay $5 million to settle two legal claims from students who alleged they were molested by Chapel. One plaintiff will receive $3 million, and the other, $2 million. Both students were represented by Cifarelli.

Those claims were made public during the time that L.A. Unified and the family were awaiting approval on the deal from the judge, said Sean Rossall, a spokesman for the district.

It was then that the family backed away from the agreement, he said. The money paid in settlements has a direct affect on the district’s general fund, money that is used to pay for schools, Rossall said.  

“We felt the case was settled in a manner that adequately provided for the future health and educational needs of the student,” Rossall said. “We want to be fair to victims, but that has to be balanced with the educational needs of the 600,000 students we serve.”

Cifarelli, who did not represent the student when the agreement was reached, said the family now intends to take the case to trial.

“This settlement will not be imposed on the mother,” he said. “It would only be in the best interest of L.A. Unified. It’s a relatively modest settlement.”

The Chapel case emerged publicly soon after L.A. Unified's largest abuse scandal. At Miramonte Elementary School, a third-grade teacher was charged with more than two dozen lewd acts; the district has paid $30 million in settlements and legal fees in that case.

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