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Southern California jury delivers $135M verdict in molestation case involving middle school teacher

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A jury has delivered a $135 million verdict in a molestation case involving a middle school teacher, determining that negligence by a Southern California school district allowed the abuse of two students during the 1990s.

Jurors in Riverside County Superior Court decided Tuesday that the Moreno Valley Unified School District is 90% responsible for the damages, while former teacher Thomas Lee West is 10% responsible, according to plaintiffs’ lawyers. The ruling means the district will pay $121.5 million in damages.

District officials didn’t immediately respond to an email Wednesday seeking comment on the verdict.

During a criminal trial, West was convicted of committing lewd or lascivious acts with minors. He is currently serving a 52 years-to-life sentence in Mule Creek State Prison.

The two former students said in their civil lawsuit that they were repeatedly abused by West during 1996 and 1997 when they were sixth graders at Vista Heights Middle School east of Los Angeles. The lawsuit said district officials should have known that West posed a threat to students.

As a result of the abuse, the victims have suffered “life-long mental and emotional distress,” their lawyers said in a statement.

“The psychological effects of the severe and pervasive abuse have left both men shells of who they would have been but for the abuse made possible by the District,” the statement said.

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