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Educator Convicted of Delay in Abuse Case

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Unified School District administrator Stuart N. Bernstein was convicted Thursday of failing to alert police in a timely, lawful manner that a teacher was suspected of molesting third-graders in his classroom.

After deliberating three days, jurors found Bernstein, 48, guilty of breaking the law with respect to allegations made by one student at the 68th Street School in South-Central Los Angeles, but were deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of conviction on four identical misdemeanor counts involving other children.

It was Bernstein’s second trial in Los Angeles Municipal Court on charges that he violated a state law that requires school and child-care officials to notify city or county law enforcement agencies within 36 hours if the officials “reasonably suspect” that a child has been abused. The prosecution contended that he waited two weeks to report complaints after they were relayed to him by Principal Alice McDonald.

His first trial ended May 28 in a mistrial after jurors were unable to reach a verdict.

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Teacher Convicted

The teacher, Terry E. Bartholome, 49, was convicted July 1 in Los Angeles Superior Court of 30 counts of lewd acts and molestation involving 13 female pupils in his 1983-84 and 1984-85 classes.

The prosecutor, Deputy City Atty. Mary E. House, said Bernstein faces a maximum sentence of six months in County Jail, a $1,000 fine or both. She said she does not know whether she will seek a jail term when Judge Sidney Cherniss imposes sentence on Sept. 8.

Bernstein, a district employee for the last 26 years, was removed from his job as a region administrator, pending the outcome of his case.

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School district Associate Supt. Jerry Halverson said Bernstein’s professional fate will be determined by the school board at a future session.

Jurors blamed the deadlock on one juror’s insistence that Bernstein should not be held accountable for failing to report accusations involving four of the pupils because he did not know those children’s names.

The holdout “was very literal-minded, and she said ‘I cannot find him guilty of failing to report a child when in my own mind I do not think he even knew who that child was,’ ” said juror Vera Kilston, 47, an engineer who lives in the Wilshire District.

“The rest of us said the fact that he did not know who that child was makes him doubly damned. He should have found out,” Kilston added.

Both Kilston and jury foreman Edward Messerman, 56, of North Hollywood said the panel was heavily influenced by the fact that when Bernstein did take action on Dec. 17, 1984, he called school security police, not the Los Angeles Police Department.

As he had in the first trial, defense attorney Harold Greenberg tried to persuade the judge to rule that calling school police was sufficient. House, however, said the law makes the distinction in order to “bring in an outside agency that has experience in the field of child abuse.”

Referring to the police issue, Greenberg said, “that instruction killed me.” The attorney also said that his case had been harmed by Cherniss’ refusal to allow him to present a number of character witnesses in support of Bernstein and to instruct the jury that two witnesses--principal McDonald and school administrator Daniel Austin--had been given immunity.

House noted, however, that Greenberg himself had been able to raise the immunity issue in court, and jurors said they were aware of it.

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At first, Kilston said, jurors thought Bernstein had conformed to the “spirit,” if not the “letter,” of the law. “But then we got to thinking about it, and we said, ‘He knew what he was supposed to do, he was in charge of telling other people what (they were) supposed to do.’ ”

Messerman, a former garment manufacturer, said: “We felt that . . . as a person who should have been in charge that he didn’t take the bull by the horns and bring it all the way to a conclusion.”

Messerman said Bernstein was “evasive” when he took the stand in his own defense.

The prosecutor said she believes that the case has been educational. “It sends a good message to child-care custodians that the law has to be followed,” she said.

Bernstein did not talk with reporters.

Halverson also declined comment, on grounds that the “judicial process has not yet been completed,” since the case is certain to be appealed.


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