LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A judge Monday put a hold of more than six months on two lawsuits filed by former Miramonte Elementary School students and their mothers so the parties can try to settle allegations that negligence by Los Angeles Unified allowed a teacher to engage in lewd conduct with their children.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Mackey, who is managing the suits filed on behalf of 24 minors and 14 mothers, placed a stay on the cases until March 1.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Luis Carrillo said mediation between the two sides will take place later this year. He said a settlement would spare his clients, particularly the children, the ordeal of testifying in depositions and during trial. Each child is participating or has already been in therapy, he said.

The attorney said he is optimistic the mediation will be fruitful.

“I always hope for the best,” Carrillo said.

The suits on behalf of the former students and their mothers were filed in May and July, respectively. Mackey later found the allegations in both complaints were similar enough to warrant being managed by one judge.

The alleged abuses by teacher Mark Berndt occurred from 2002-11, and LAUSD officials knew as early as the 1990-91 school year that he was involved in sexual misconduct, according to the lawsuits.

Berndt, 61, of Torrance, is charged with 23 counts of committing a lewd act on a child between 2005 and 2011. The charges involve 23 children who were 7 to 10 years old. Prosecutors contend he took photos of children who were unknowingly being spoon-fed bodily fluids or eating semen-tainted cookies.

(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)


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