Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Protecting the Inland Empire's school children from abuse

Last Friday, we called on those who are in the position of raising children to resolve to take full responsibility of them in order to keep them out of the gang, crime and drug cultures which now plague significant portions of the Inland Empire. Parents, guardians and teachers have a serious obligation to provide for the needs of these children so they can grow up, learn the skills to be a productive worker and compete in the American marketplace, and become responsible and selfless leaders when they assume a position of authority.

It is becoming evident that many in the state legislature and several public labor union leaders are supporting policies that harm public school children. They have backed several examples of state legislation which do not hold public sector employees who commit child abuse crimes fully accountable. As a transit advocate, that is absolutely unacceptable. As illustrated in the A Better Inland Empire logo, we advocate for policies that will bring the Inland Empire to economic prosperity free from corruption with a first-rate transportation system in a pollution-free environment, not only for ourselves but also for our children who will be our future leaders. That means getting behind legislation that hold child abuse criminals accountable and protecting innocent kids.

A disgraceful act and trivial regulatory obstructions in the public schools

In January, 2011, this man, former Miramonte
Elementary teacher Mark Berndt, was
accused of abusing his students.
In January, 2011, former Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt was accused of abusing his students, feeding his own semen to 23 innocent school children while teaching at Miramonte Elementary School under the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The disgraceful evidence of this crime is overwhelming. According to an LA Weekly blog post, investigators confiscated over 400 photos of the in-class lewd acts, which authorities believed to have recurred over a two-year period between 2008 and 2010.

When presented with such evidence like that, both the school district's human resource office and the principal should have been able to immediately fire Berndt and hold him criminally liable for such actions. That would have been the just and right thing to do. Unfortunately, LAUSD was politically strapped from doing so.

According the LA Weekly, Berndt was immediately removed from the classroom, but the LAUSD didn't officially fire him until March no thanks to a mandatory 45-day notice period. Also under trivial rules, the accused criminal appealed the termination. In the end, the school district was forced to give Berndt a $40,000 payout just to convince him to drop the appeal and accept resignation. These trivial obstructions to remove an accused offender can be blamed on a complex teacher discipline system put together by the teacher unions. To be fair, investigators did instruct LAUSD not to conduct a duplicate investigation which may have contributed to the termination chaos, but that is no excuse to strip LAUSD or the school principal of the authority to immediately suspend Berndt without pay pending the results of such a serious investigation involving 23 children. Right now, the accused teacher is being held in jail. He has pleaded not guilty in court and his bail is set at $23 million.

The situation gets worse. This week the LAUSD was forced to hand out $27 million in settlements to victims to settle dozens of court claims. News reports indicate that the money will actually go to victims. Without question, victims should certainly be compensated for such crimes. However, this dole out came out of LAUSD's general fund, which means the good people of Los Angeles are forced to pay for Berndt's alleged crimes. LAUSD is trying to recoup some of the money from insurance, but why does it not have the power to work with law enforcement and file restitution charges in court against Berndt?

A disturbing response from the legislature

In 2012, inspired by this horrific incident and the political circus that continues to this very day, California Senator Bob Huff introduced state legislation that would give school districts more power to fire individuals accused of such criminal activity. SB 1059 passed in the Senate, but it died in the Assembly due to pressure from the California Teachers Association and other unions. The special interests claimed that SB 1059 would have taken away the teachers’ constitutional right to a fair hearing in order to confront their accusers. That is a big lie. The Founding Fathers never placed such rights into the law of the land, but have established the judicial branch to deal with such matters. SB 1059 does not abridge a teacher's right to file a wrongful dismissal claim in court, the proper forum to counter frivolous terminations should a public employee and the human resources office fail to resolve a conflict. However, union-pandering legislators thought otherwise.

The defeat of SB 1059 was a disgrace which caused public backlash; so the legislature passed AB 375 this year which awaits the Governor's signature. The bill reforms some teacher dismissal procedures but still falls well short of what SB 1059 would have done to protect school children from predators. According the San Diego Union Tribune, the bill would actually grant more job protections which led its editorial board to oppose the legislation.

The final bill, if signed into law, does nothing to protect innocent children in our public schools who are our future of San Bernardino and Riverside counties. That is absolutely disgraceful.

Discriminatory public-sector exemptions of SB 131

Bring in SB 131. This law would allow lawyers of victims to file lawsuits against private organizations for child abuse cases where the statute of limitations had expired. It's no question that abuse victims should receive restitution toward damage recovery and the law would buy them time to build up a case as mature adults. However, the bill exempts public schools and other government agencies from such litigation thanks to public employee union pandering. This is outright discriminatory. Where's the protection of our public school children from predatory teachers in this bill?

For the record we do not oppose this bill outright, but feel both its merits and issues need to be exposed. To be fair, according to the official legislative analysis report, SB 131 also extends the time limits for victims to sue against the actual individual abuser, but in 1998 and 2002, similar time limit extension laws were passed. It was AB 1651 in 2002 that targeted private organizations as a whole which created a furry of lawsuits. The law allowed victims to sue a whole organization for damages beyond age 26 with a one year window whenever some corrupt leader inside was covering up child abuse crime. The 2002 law didn't target the necessarily target criminals nor those who abusively covered up, but the private organizations as a whole. That means, victims can sue for damage restitution, but innocent donors and sponsors may end up paying the bill, not those who committed the crime.

Last decade, these child abuse lawsuits filed against organizations flooded the courtrooms of California. Today, many of these court cases have been settled between victims and the offender--Correction--the offender's organization and its donors. Billions have been paid out by the non-profit sector to the suing parties, a significant portion of which didn't even go to the victims, but to the lawyers. The situation allowed for attorneys to profit from private organizations' treasuries funded by donors who played no roll in this disgraceful criminal activity. Do we really need a repeat of this entire fiasco?

Because of these flaws, many private groups are opposing the bill and have strong and legit reasons to back up their position. The California Council of Nonprofit Organizations poured $258,000 into fighting the bill. However, some in the media are not reporting all of the facts, causing the public to brand such organizations as child-haters for opposing SB 131. Here's how the Los Angeles Times and the Huffington Post spun it; click on the links to read how these outlets reported the story and how the readers responded. On the other side, this Sacramento Bee opinion piece shows that SB 131 won’t allow lawsuits to be revived against the actual perpetrator of abuse – just his or her employer. Upon further review, that is incorrect. The bill would extend the statute of limitations for suits against actual criminals with the information buried in the official legal analysis.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2013/09/04/5707479/viewpoints-there-should-be-equal.html#storylink=cpy

It's without question that the offending criminals, pedophiles and those who willfully cover up such acts must be held accountable. Corrupt leaders in many organizations have gravely messed up, especially those in the Roman Catholic Church. The offenders must be ousted from their jobs, serve mandatory jail time and pay restitution to the victims out of their own pockets. That's fair legislation. However there is no reason to throw out a whole organization with the flawed leaders; Judas was an apostle. Today, many organizations take responsibility for such criminal activity. Most churches have implemented child protection policies such as banning Sunday school classes and clergy appointments in private homes. Volunteers and employees who work with children are subject to criminal background checks. Some organizations go as far to train such people to be mandated reporters. Do we really need to penalize such entities for that?

Is SB 131 really about protecting children by bringing those who commit or cover up such horrible crimes to justice, or are the union leaders and lawyers looking to make even more money by putting a financial strain on the non-profit sector? You be the judge.

Again, for the record, we do not outright oppose this bill, but its legal loopholes need to be brought up for discussion in the court of public opinion.

Protecting our children from the political fiscal fiasco

In fairness, California workers need protection from labor abuse; that's why they have a right to organize into a labor union. We are also in no way dissenting good and productive honest labor by hardworking teachers and those who work in the public sector. However, there is no question that many of today's union leaders are making huge sums of money paid for by the state taxpayer and the dues-paying worker. Abuse has allowed greedy leaders to buy spots in the legislature through lavish donations to politicians which have given the special interests indirect power to dictate state policy and has thus crippled the California Republic. Californians therefore have to put up with high taxes, a poor transportation network, unfriendly business regulations, and a system that holds very little accountability for public workers who abuse our children. Who exactly is running the state?

Take Action!

The madness taking place in Sacramento is a disgrace to democracy. It's time for the people of the State of California follow the example of the what the good folks in Moreno Valley are doing to reclaim their republic. It's now time to rise up against this political corruption that is harming innocent children and their future.

For the record: A previous version of the blog post incorrectly mentioned SB 131 would not extend the statute of limitations for suits against actual criminals based on faulty resource data. Upon further review of the official legislative analysis, the time limits do apply.

9 comments:

  1. Your analysis of SB 131 is biased and factually incorrect. For example, you criticize SB 131 for not specifically stating you can sue your abuser. It does not need to because under current law, you can sue your abuser regardless of your age. SB 131 does not need to change that. Secondly, criminal laws and civil law regarding public entities are different sections of law that would need to be addressed with separate legislation. It sounds as if you are just regurgitating all the arguments the Catholic Church has spun to try to defeat SB 131. The fact is SB 131 gives a certain class of victims the ability to seek redress and identify pedophiles. It is a stepping stone piece of legislation that should be supported unless you want to silence victims, protect pedophiles and the organizations that enable them.

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    1. Lucky2087, upon further review, the blog post did incorrectly mention SB 131 would not extend the statute of limitations for suits against actual criminals. The bill does in fact do that. The information was buried in the official legal analysis but incorrectly reported by the media. That point was corrected in the post. You've also pointed that criminal laws and civil law regarding public entities are different sections of law that would need to be addressed with separate legislation...So, why not have legislation that allows the justice system to put these child predators and corrupt leaders who cover up such crimes away with mandatory jail time and restitution for each victim? Why not allow the victims to file claims under oath to a court-appointed trustee where such restitution can be dispersed?

      Flawed leaders in the Catholic Church gravely messed up; that is crystal clear. However it is irresponsible to throw out an entire organization with the corrupt leaders. It is simply unjust to have innocent donors and sponsors foot the bill. There's nothing biased about that; that's fair policy.

      The criminals must be held liable to pay restitution to the victims. Those abused as children must receive the justice owed to them fair and square. Pedophiles and corrupt leaders within any organization, whether it be public or private, must be immediately fired, pay restitution to each victim, and be locked up for long periods of time.

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  2. Protecting the Inland Empire's school children from abuse ... by opposing SB 131, a bill that will expose pedophiles? SB 131 brings justice to victims who were abused by pedophiles. I don't understand why you wouldn't support victims over pedophiles in this case? You should support victims over pedophiles in any case. You should support SB 131 and support any bill that gives child victims justice over their abusers and their enablers, either public or private. Please, don't stand in the way of any victims. Exposing pedophiles is the best way to protect children from abuse.

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    1. John, we did not take a formal opposition to SB 131 nor are we calling Brown to veto it, but we are seriously questioning the fact that the policy excludes the public sector and how it exposes non-profit organizations to unnecessary liability whereas the pedophiles and the individuals who cover up such crimes are the ones who must be held accountable. Victims must be supported over the criminals, no question. Exposing and locking up pedophiles and those who cover up child abuse crimes with mandatory jail time and victim restitution is certainly the best way to go. However, it is not fair policy to force law-abiding donors and sponsors who fund the non-profit sector into paying for the victim's restitution where it should be done by the criminals themselves and those who cover up the scandals. That's what's questionable.

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    2. What's questionable is the shuffling around of predators from school to school, public or private. Anybody who played a knowing role in shuffling child predators from one location to the next should be held liable in both criminal and civil courts. I feel for the donors who put their hard-earned money toward a cause they believed in, but if an organization is rife with pedophiles, it needs to be held accountable. Organizations with fewer pedophiles (or with credible systems for protecting children) will most likely attract the most donations. If I were to donate to a church or a swimming club, I would demand that these organizations have a vigorous child protection policy. Anything else is a waste of time, money, and children. To be frank, if you protect your investors and employees more than you do the children that are put in your care, what business do you have caring for children in the first place? This issue is about accountability for people who harm children. How would you feel if your kid was fed semen for 2 years and the public (or private) school said sorry your kid is damaged and will never be the same, but we and our investors aren't responsible for this; the teacher we hired and managed that molested your kid has $400 dollars of assets, you should hire a lawyer (along with the other 2 dozen kids) and fight for nickels. When you are done, I'm sure that school will be happy to hire another teacher to abuse your kid next year ... unless it is held accountable. The organizations that let this go on need to be held accountable or nothing will change. Donors should only donate to organizations with strict child protection policies in place. Anything less is a disservice to the children you claim to want to protect. Don't support organizations that abuse children.

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    3. John, your first point "anybody who played a knowing role in shuffling child predators" we agree. Lock them up and have them pay up. We also agree to your second point and many organizations including the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino and the Boy Scouts have already implemented strict policies to protect children from such crime. State law makes it tougher for ex-criminals to work with children. If you're going to volunteer with children, be prepared for a criminal background check and be ready to take mandatated reporter training.

      To answer your third question, we would want the pedophile who fed his semen locked up in prison for a long period of time, undergo mandatory rehabilitation, be ordered to register as an offender under Megan's law, and be fully liable to the mandatory restitution to each victim which would be collected through working with the court-appointed trustee, no private lawyer necessary. The law would be written in a way where judges cannot bypass the mandatory floor on such prison terms. We would also want the whole establishment to be investigated by the justice department which includes collecting testimony from other workers under oath. If anybody else within the establishment is found to have covered up or failed to report such crime as mandated reporters, they must be jailed and be held liable to pay restitution to the victim as well. If the establishment itself failed to follow the Child Abuse Reporting Law (California Penal Code section 11166) which requires professionals and lay persons who work with children to report child abuse to law enforcement or any other laws, then it would be just to implement a single heavy fine against the whole entity with a 30 day window for correction.

      Long jail time for criminals and mandatory child reporting laws on organizations deters such crime. For instance, 44 states have implemented mandatory 25 year prison terms for the first conviction of child rape and these states have seen such horrible crimes drop. Now if the crook in this case had very little assets, there's several options that the state can do so that taxpayers or outsiders are not on the hook to pay victim's restitution: The state could add a fair interest rate to the restitution while the defendant pays it back, forbid the debt to be discharged through bankruptcy protection, set up payment arrangements, or garnish the criminal's wage.

      Now, regarding the replacement of the teacher, we have no problem with mandatory criminal background checks and the Child Abuse Reporting Law. Organizations must not be allowed to hire convicted pedophiles. If the human resource manager or any other mandated reporter within the entity willfully hires a pedophile or fails to conduct a background check, they need to be held just as liable under law. As you've pointed, those people have no businesses working with children.

      Here are the two issues that remain unanswered with SB 131 that was pointed out in the blog post: Why does this law exclude public entities which makes it outright discriminatory? Why does the law reopen a loophole where lawyers can capitalize on innocent people who played no role in such crime in the name of child protection? If those two issues are resolved combined with having a mandatory floor for prison time and restitution is set on the offenders, then we have a strong child protection law.

      Looks like we've good a good debate going and we thank you for keeping it civil. We'll give you the last word.

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  3. No laws are universal and perfect. There is no universal murder law that protects all people ... nor any other law. But, we try to protect as many people as we can. This bill was much larger in scope when it started, but this is the version that made it out of both legislature. You would throw this bill out and give justice to no victims. You must not be a victim or know one. A victory for one victim is a victory for all victims. When they arrested Sandusky, no vicitms were saying, "You should let Sandusky go because you haven't caught my perpetrator yet!" Every victim you help and every perpetrator you identifiy is a victory for your society.
    You seem to think the only perpetrator should be held accountable. I believe in more accountability for organizations that manage children. No public school teacher will have the $27 million to pay for the treatment and damage of 24 children. The average pedophile abuses around 300 children in their lifetime. I doubt these were the only children abused, he just got caught. How is he going to pay for even one child's treatment if he's locked up in jail? How will he get another job that will pay a salary of $1 million a year to cover theses costs? Who would hire him? Why would he work for nothing if you garnished his wages?
    By the same logic we should lock up the terrorist resposible for the 9/11 bombing and have only them cover the cost of the Twin Towers and families damaged. The damage is unimaginable, and if an organization, public or private is responsible for negligence in the abuse of a child, they should be held accountable. You wouldn't suggest that I go to China and make the factory worker who assembled my defective toaster pay for it, you return it to Walmart for your refund, because they had the responsibility of managing the process, and they are the only one who can modify the structure that caused the defect.
    I am all for locking up pedophiles and their enablers, but your plan would leave child vicitms out in the cold to fend for themselves while protecting the organization that should have overseen their protection. That is why people drop their kids off at the gymnasium or school, they believe that the organization has a duty to protect those children. I suggest that duty is greater than the duty owed to its financial supporters and stockholders. The organizations that take protecting children seriously will thrive, the ones who are only pretending to protect children will fall off the vine. Nobody should financially support any organization unless they have solid child protection policies in place.

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    1. John, thank you for taking the time to discuss this and it was a pleasure having a constructive debate. We'll have a follow up post as this story unfolds.

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    ReplyDelete