The Los Angeles school district has come under criticism for successfully defending a sexual abuse lawsuit by saying a 14-year-old girl willingly had sex with her middle school math teacher.
The girl is appealing the case because the judge allowed evidence of her sexual history to be presented and because the district's lawyer blamed her for willingly meeting the teacher at a motel for sex.
“She lied to her mother so she could have sex with her teacher,” Keith Wyatt, the district's attorney in the case, told 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?”
The teacher in the case, Elkis Hermida, was sentenced in 2011 to three years in prison for lewd acts against a child.
The Los Angeles Unified School District claimed it was unaware of the relationship between the teacher and student and was cleared last year of wrongdoing by a civil jury in Los Angeles Superior Court. The girl was not awarded damages for the emotional trauma she said she suffered during a five-month relationship with the teacher.
The case raises questions about a conflict between California criminal and civil law when it comes to sexual consent.
Wyatt had cited a federal court decision that said a minor could consent to sex in some circumstances.
“It doesn't make sense,” said Jennifer Drobac, an Indiana University law professor who has studied consent laws nationwide. “The same parties, same behavior, same everything, consent is no defense in a criminal trial. But the same set of facts in a civil prosecution, consent is a complete defense. How is that possible? It's not logical.”
Lawyers and advocates for sexual abuse victims said the legal tactic was appalling.
“The belief that middle school children can consent to sexual activity is something one would expect to hear from pedophile advocates, not the second-largest school district in the U.S.,” attorney John Manly told the Los Angeles Times.
In defending his tactics, Wyatt further came under fire for telling the public radio station that it takes maturity to decide to cross the street and that's more dangerous than deciding to have sex with a teacher.
“My statements were ill thought out and poorly articulated and by no means reflect the opinions of the school district or its leadership,” Wyatt said in a written apology Thursday.
The district said it would continue using Wyatt's firm.