LOS ANGELES – Attorneys representing the Los Angeles Unified School District have a lot of gall.
That’s apparently the conclusion jurors came to in a case involving the law firm of Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt, which argued some wild theories in a court case last year involving a 9-year-old developmentally disabled student who was repeatedly molested by a classmate, 89.3 KPCC reports.
The young girl’s family sued the school district to recover financial damages and compensation for therapy needed to address the significant trauma, her attorney David Ring said. But W. Keith Wyatt, a partner at Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt, presented a expert witness on LAUSD’s behalf that argued the victim’s low IQ “acts as a protective factor” that reduces her suffering, according to the news site.
“At trial, Ring asked (celebrity psychologist Stan) Katz what he meant when he had testified that the girl’s disability ‘acts as a protective factor.’ According to the court transcript, Katz answered, ‘There’s a relationship between intelligence and depression. What happens is the more you think about things, you can ruminate, you can focus on things, you can look at the complexities of the matter and become more depressed.’
“Following up, Ring asked, ‘So because she may be less intelligent than a general education student, she’s going to suffer less depression because of it?’ Katz replied, ‘Very possible, yes,’” KPCC reports.
Katz then tried to blame the victim’s emotional distress on her absent father, claiming the girl’s issues are a combination of that reality and her mental disability, not the repeated molestation she endured while attending her LAUSD school.
Psychological experts who reviewed Katz’ testimony were flabbergasted.
“I have never seen developmental disability in a child that age used as a protective factor with respect to how they handle trauma,” University of California San Francisco psychiatrist Lynn Ponton told the news station.
“In fact, developmental disability quite often puts them at risk for this type of trauma.”
Steven Berkowitz, director of the Penn Center for Youth and Family Trauma Response and Recover, said mentally disabled people who experience trauma may have a “compromised” ability “to fully understand why something may have happened” or “the consequences for themselves or others,” KPCC reports.
Berkowitz said that person could also struggle with “decision making or problem solving around the use of coping strategies to assist them in dealing with the stress or trauma.”
LAUSD’s general counsel, Greg McNair, disagreed with the defense presented by Wyatt, but Katz and school board members did not respond to KPCC’s requests for comment.
It’s not the first time KPCC busted Wyatt for making absurd legal arguments in civil cases involving LAUSD. He was removed from 18 LAUSD cases he was working on in November after the news station revealed another one of his skeevy strategies.
In a case defending the district against a lawsuit filed by the parents of a 14-year-old who was seduced and sexually assaulted by her 28-year-old teacher, Wyatt made the outlandish argument in court last year that the girl was mature enough to consent to sex. He made matters worse when he attempted to defend his legal strategy after the fact.
He told KPCC earlier this month that “making the 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.’”
A LAUSD spokesman announced soon after that Wyatt was removed from 14 of 18 cases he was working on for the district, and the remaining four cases were transferred to others in his firm.
In the case of the developmentally disabled 9-year-old, Wyatt attempted to argue the victim needed only $10,000 to $12,500 for therapy sessions because of the “protective factor,” but jurors didn’t buy it.
They awarded the family $1.4 million instead.
“The jury was offended, they were disgusted and they thought it was unbelievable that an expert witness could come in and say something like that,” Ring said of his post-trial conversations with jurors, according to KPCC.