Attorneys for the Los Angeles Unified School District introduced the sexual history of a 14-year-old into evidence during a civil trial last year and argued that she was able to consent to sex with a teacher twice her age.
The shocking details of the case were uncovered by Southern California’s KPCC as it was investigating another civil case pending against the school district involving a teacher that had molested dozens of students.
After Elkis Hermida, a 28-year-old math teacher at Thomas Edison Middle School, was convicted of lewd acts with a child in July 2011 and sentenced to three years in prison, the 14-year-old girl’s family filed a lawsuit against the school district for negligence.
But attorneys vigorously denied that the school district had any knowledge of the activity. And to make their case, they argued not only that the girl could consent to sex with an adult, but they also cited her sexual history as evidence.
“She lied to her mother so she could have sex with her teacher,” Keith Wyatt, the school district’s attorney said 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?”
The statements are shocking not only because the school district ultimately serves the students, but also because California is generally regarded as being on the leading edge of progressive causes, such as the protection of victims’ rights.
The attorneys exploited a wrinkle in California law which sets the age of consent for sex at the age of 18 for criminal cases but leaves open room for argument in civil cases that minors can consent to sex with adults.
“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.
During the trial, Wyatt criticized the girl claiming the she was suing in order to get paid.
“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, according to KPCC.
“She doesn’t want therapy, she wants money. That’s what they are asking you for.”
“It doesn’t make sense,” Indiana University law professor Jennifer Drobac told KPCC of California’s age of consent double-standard. “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.”
The state also has different standards for the introduction of sexual history of alleged victims in criminal versus civil cases. Alleged victims’ sexual history cannot be brought into evidence in criminal cases, but it can be used in civil cases.
It is not clear what sexual history the school district’s attorneys brought into evidence at trial.
Ultimately, the jury ruled in favor of the school district.