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LAUSD rehires lawyer who said teen was mature enough to consent to sex with teacher

The Los Angeles Unified School District has rehired an outside attorney it fired last fall after he said it was more dangerous for a teen to cross a street in traffic than to consent to sex with her teacher, district officials said Wednesday.

The district announced last November that it would sever ties with the attorney, W. Keith Wyatt, who had argued in court that a 14-year-old girl was partly to blame for her own sexual abuse at the hands of her then-math teacher at Edison Middle School. The teacher, Elkis Hermida, was convicted of lewd acts with a minor and sentenced to three years in prison, but the girl has filed a civil case against L.A. Unified, claiming negligence.

General Counsel Dave Holmquist said the district had retained Wyatt and his Los Angeles firm, Ivy, McNeill & Wyatt, for two cases in February and three in June. Wyatt so far has billed the district $4,500 for his work; Holmquist said the attorney’s involvement in the cases has been “pretty minimal.”

“We have a 28-year-old history with this firm,” Holmquist said. “They have done outstanding legal work. We should not deny work to that firm because of what one particular lawyer did and said.”

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Asked why L.A. Unified had rehired Wyatt after announcing last fall it would bar him from further work, Holmquist said he and the firm had demonstrated that “they learned from their mistakes.”

The mistake, Holmquist said, was speaking to reporters without district permission.

In discussing the Edison case with KPCC last year, Wyatt insisted that a 14-year-old was mature enough to consent to sex with her teacher.

“Making a decision as to whether or not to cross the street when traffic is coming, that takes a level of maturity and that’s a much more dangerous decision than to decide, ‘Hey, I want to have sex with my teacher,’” Wyatt told KPCC.

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A jury found that L.A. Unified was not liable for negligence because the teacher and the girl concealed their sexual conduct; after a student reported it to a teacher, the district immediately reported it to police. Last month, however, the state Court of Appeal ordered the case retried because it said L.A. Unified improperly argued the girl was partly at fault for her sexual abuse and introduced evidence of her prior sexual history.

The district has not indicated whether it will appeal that ruling. The case is scheduled to be discussed in closed session by the Board of Education on Tuesday.

Among Wyatt’s newly assigned cases, he is defending the district from allegations that the Gompers Middle School principal at the time, Traci Gholar, and two other school employees failed to adequately protect a girl who says she was dragged into the boys’ locker room and sexually assaulted by a group of male students in April 2014.

The girl, identified in court papers as Jane Doe, alleged that Gholar told a friend who went to the principal for help that she was too busy with a pending meeting to provide it. Another employee initially ignored the girl’s screams and another failed to call for medical help, the girl alleges.

The district has denied all allegations.

Wyatt is also defending the district from allegations that it failed to adequately supervise a teacher’s assistant who is accused of molesting a 7-year-old special education student at Gledhill Elementary in North Hills last August. Holmquist said the litigation was still in the early stages and a response to the allegations would be determined as the case developed.

Twitter: @TeresaWatanabe

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