Friday, November 14, 2014

In LA Public Schools, a Middle Schooler Can Consent to Sex with a Teacher

At least that's an LA court's ruling.

Once again, this is not about what happened.  The teacher who raped this child got three years in prison.  (And we can hope he never teaches again.)

It's about the district's responsibility for the actions of this teacher.  In this case, it appears there was little to none BUT the district took the opportunity to portray the victim as a wanton harlot. (I'm not exaggerating  - read on.)

(I'm also going to say that I find it hard to believe that a sexual relationship that went on for six months was unnoticed by any other adult in the school.  Hard to fathom.)

NO district should treat any student this way, CYA or not.

From KPCC:

Last November, Los Angeles Unified School District lawyers fighting a civil lawsuit argued in court that a 14-year-old middle school student was mature enough to consent to having sex with her 28-year-old teacher, and that she bore some responsibility for what happened. The district's attorneys also introduced the girl's sexual history into the trial as part of their defense strategy.

"She lied to her mother so she could have sex with her teacher," said Keith Wyatt, L.A. Unified's trial attorney in the case, in an interview with KPCC. "She went to a motel in which she engaged in voluntary consensual sex with her teacher. Why shouldn't she be responsible for that?"

Many legal experts are outraged:


Another leading expert, law professor Marci Hamilton of the Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School in New York, called the school district's approach in the civil trial "outrageous," and accused it of "engaging in scorched earth tactics." 

L.A. Unified also persuaded Judge Cho to place the girl's name on the jury's verdict form, which provided an opportunity for jurors to find her comparatively negligent, or at fault.

Cho admitted his ruling was unusual, saying, "There is currently no published decision in California" allowing the consideration of a child victim's comparative negligence in a school sex abuse case.

In thinking of the Garfield case, this sounds familiar:

In his closing argument during the civil trial, Wyatt maintained that the girl was pursuing the case for purely financial reasons.

"She wants to be paid for doing something that she knew was wrong, that she acknowledged was wrong, that she knew was from the beginning," Wyatt argued, adding, "She doesn't want therapy, she wants money. That's what they are asking you for."

Background
 

California's rape shield law prohibits evidence of a sexually abused victim's sexual history in criminal trials, but it is allowed in civil cases, according to Jeff Dion, Deputy Executive Director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Center for Victims of Crime.

"I think it's unusual that we are seeing it being used against a child," said Dion.

Two legal experts sharply criticized the school district for using those tactics. They also said the case highlights a little-known conflict in California law: while the age of consent is firmly set at 18 in criminal cases, at least two appellate court rulings have found that in civil cases, it is possible to argue that a minor can consent to sex with an adult. 

I wonder if Washington State law has a similar problem.

Decision

In the end, the jury didn't fill out the verdict form. It ruled in favor of LAUSD, accepting the district's argument that it had no knowledge of the relationship and therefore was not at fault. 

"While we are sympathetic of the pain that this type of inappropriate relationship could cause this young woman and her family, the case focused on whether the school district could have done anything to prevent it," Wyatt said. L.A. Unified tried the case "in a respectful manner," he said, adding, "our argument shared in the disgust with this teacher’s actions, but it focused on the decisions of this teacher and young lady to hide their behavior from the school district."

Wyatt issued another statement from his law office on Thursday in which he apologized for his remarks:
“Upon reflection, I realize how insensitive the comments I made to KPCC were, and I am truly sorry to this young woman and her family. My statements were ill thought out and poorly articulated and by no means reflect the opinions of the school district or its leadership. It is regrettable that my remarks have taken away from the respectful manner in which this case was tried.
 Well, I guess he can say he did his job.  Congrats, LUSD.  What a hollow, sorry "victory. "

6 comments:

cmj said...

First Wyatt successfully defended the district in the suit. Then he made some comments to the media and the district announced that they were dropping him, but still retaining his firm (at which he is a partner).

Two reactions:
1. Wouldn't Wyatt still be profiting off LAUSD's continued business with his firm?
2. Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt must be really good lawyers.

'L.A. Unified lawyer Wyatt insisted that a 14-year-old can have the maturity to consent to sex.

"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.'

Wait...what? I don't have the context -- and I'm sure that his remarks were quite offensive in any context -- but I'm having trouble coming up with a context where that would make sense to anyone. Six year olds are smart enough not to cross the road when there's oncoming traffic, but that's leagues away from being mature enough to consent to sex.

Anonymous said...

Why do we even bother to have a legal age of consent in that case?

An older teenage boyfriend of a 14 yr old girl could be charged with rape and branded a sex offender and have to register etc on the basis of statutory rape laws (if for instance girls parents got mad about them have a typical teenage consensual sexual relationship and pressed charges (this happens)…how does that jibe with a ruling like this.

Wow, I guess I'd want that lawyer on my side if I ever got in trouble though ; )

LA Law

Anonymous said...

What does this phrase mean?

In thinking of the Garfield case, this sounds familiar

--Rose

Melissa Westbrook said...

It means that the phrasing used there by the LAUSD is similar to phrasing used by some about the Garfield field trip incident victim.

Anonymous said...

I see no comparison with the Garfield case. The media reported that the Garfield victim's family went into debt over her therapy.

The LA teacher went to jail but the SPS teachers weren't disciplined for violating the WACs.

Ben

joanna said...

Employers should still be liable for actions of employees. It is their fault for a lack of oversight or poor judgement in hiring. I am aghast at this decision and hope that it is appealed.