The L.A. Unified School District has severed ties with an outside attorney for his comments on a radio station broadcast that it was a more dangerous decision for a 14-year-old to cross a street in traffic than to have sex with her middle-school teacher, officials announced Friday.
General Counsel Dave Holmquist announced that W. Keith Wyatt, who has represented the district for 27 years, would be barred from any further legal work with the district because of his “inappropriate comments.”
Wyatt made the remarks this week to KPCC in defending his legal strategy in a civil lawsuit the student filed filed against the district, claiming that she suffered emotional trauma stemming from a five-month sexual relationship nearly four years ago with her math teacher at Edison Middle School.
In that case, Wyatt argued that L.A. Unified should not be liable for damages because the girl was mature enough to consent to sex and had a prior history of sexual activity. Those arguments have sparked outrage and calls to fire Wyatt.
“Mr. Wyatt’s comments yesterday were completely inappropriate, and they undermine the spirit of the environment we strive to offer our students every day,” Holmquist said in a statement. “This spirit drives more than just our actions in the classroom, it defines how we approach all of our work—especially the way we discuss and handle the sensitive litigation matters that we deal with. These comments were a total violation of that spirit. Respect and empathy must be at the core of how we approach these cases, and Mr. Wyatt’s remarks did not reflect that commitment.”
Holmquist offered his “deepest apologies” to the girl and her family, saying that “maintaining a strong sense of mutual trust” with students and families was critical.
A jury last fall found L.A. Unified was not liable for damages in the case. District officials argued that school staff did not know of the abuse and that the eighth-grade teacher and student took pains to conceal their relationship until it was reported to a science teacher by the victim’s friend.
When notified, officials said, the district immediately removed the teacher, Elkis Hermida, from the classroom; he was subsequently convicted on criminal charges of lewd acts against a child and sentenced to three years in prison in 2011.
Follow the reporter on Twitter: @TeresaWatanabe