Letter: School Board Member Should Drop Lawsuit

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For the second time now, the U.S. District Court has dismissed Dee Perry’s lawsuit against her fellow board members and Superintendent Viloria. Although  Ms. Perry could yet again file another complaint on the same things to drag this out, pretty soon it will be three strikes and she’s out. In the meantime, Ms. Perry is just costing the taxpayers, and our students, money.

Some have suggested that the case has not resolved because Ms. Perry’s fellow board members are not being reasonable. These people say “just give Ms. Perry what she wants.” But it is clear to me, based on over 25 years of experience in defending litigation, that Ms. Perry’s attorneys are very, very likely seeking some sort of payment from our schools. I think Ms. Perry and her attorneys are the ones being unreasonable, not the rest of the Board. Anyone who really thinks that Ms. Perry’s attorneys are not seeking money from the district (and it’s our money, by the way) should specifically ask Ms. Perry whether or not her attorneys are seeking monetary payment from the district, and if so how much.

If Ms. Perry says “no,” her supporters should ask Ms. Perry why her complaint (now dismissed) sought that relief, and specifically ask Ms. Perry to instruct her attorney to remove the request for attorneys fees from any future complaint and stop demanding her attorney get paid our money.

Enough is enough. The court has ruled. Ms. Perry should instruct her attorney to stop costing the taxpayers’ money and drop her lawsuit. Perhaps then she can focus on her elected position instead of litigation.

Keith Newburry, Laguna Beach

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Keith-
    Where was all your outrage when Viloria and the School Board spent 3 years and $100 of thousands of tax payer monies lawyering up to protect their own abusive behavior?
    Viloria and the School board lawyered up against a student without EVER speaking to the student or parents.
    The Superior Court Ruled
    Viloria and the School Board:
    Abused their discretion with NO statutory authority.
    Where was your outrage when the Judge threatened Viloria with contempt of court for NOT following his ruling?
    Where was your outrage when the Judge was forced to read LBUSD’s “MISSION STATEMENT”
    to counsel for Viloria and the School Board reminding them that their job is to “HELP” kids not hurt them?
    Where was your outrage when Viloria and the School Board choose to appeal the Superior Court decision to protect their future careers only to loose again 4-0 upholding the Superior Courts decision while repremanding their actions?
    Where was your outrage when Viloria and the School Board decided from a closed SECRET COMMITTEE to renew the contract of the of the law firm that lost the case without any review? This while hiring another law firm for 100’s of thousands of dollars to go after Dee for choosing to not go along with more of their abuses.
    Viloria and this School Board use our tax monies to abuse anyone who stands up against them.
    You should be demanding a forensic accounting of ALL lawsuits and settlements that have occurred during Viloria and this School Boards tenure.
    Especially NON-Disclosures with former female staff members.

  2. The recent orchestrated narrative defending the School Board majority in multiple controversies is unavailing. Thus we are told twice elected Board Dee Perry should abandon a good faith claim of discrimination and civil rights abuses to avoid being ostracized in our sometimes incestuous social and civic culture.

    Of course, while ignoring the School Board’s reliance for a decade on bad advice from expensive lawyers who repeatedly have lost in court, Perry’s critics decry the modest legal fees she has incurred personally seeking justice for herself and the constituents she represents.

    Perry seeks judicial supervision of what she alleges to be anti-democratic bullying and discrimination by the Superintendent and Board leaders Wolff, Vickers and Normandin. The court can and will decide if the question of whether the Board acted properly is primarily a legal one that requires juridical intervention, or if it is more properly a political question for voters to decide in November.

    Either way, it is the Board majority and its corporate law firm pit bull lawyers who converted a local political debate over small town standards of governance into a legal confrontation. Perry stands to gain nothing except to redeem her oath of office to serve, protect and defend the School District according to the rule of law.

    She is the most civil, polite, courteous and respectful person on the Board, and the last one who wants to be involved in a court case. But as a 35 year local teacher she once felt compelled morally to bring a students’ rights case in state court, in a bid to get the School Board’s attention. She did that on a teacher’s salary, took it as far as she could take it, and in the end the School District ultimately dedicated more resources to address the needs of local schools families.

    She thought getting elected and working with the School Board would enable her to promote reform and change constructively, but because she spoke out of turn and did not know her place in the world of petty politics she was forced to seek judicial protection from harassment and discrimination. Again, it is clear Perry is the last person that wants to be in court, but she is there on behalf of past Board members who were silenced and future Board members who could be silenced by abuse of secrecy laws.

    If she abandons her case under political pressure from Board members who have treated her with intolerance that will be prejudicial to representative local government in our community.

    Contrary to the narrative of nullification that would end judicial scrutiny before the court case is terminated or the parties settle, Perry filed her case in federal court because several constitutional and civil rights lawyers told her she had a federal equal rights claim. The judge has not signed and filed a final ruling terminating the case.

    Instead, he has informed the parties that if he rules on the record before him he will dismiss the case, primarily because Perry did not persuade the judge it was a federal and not a state court case.

    But instead of filing a final order he has invited Board member Perry who is the plaintiff to amend the complaint and augment the record before a final ruling. Because her lawyers went deeper into issues the court had identified in giving her more time previously, the court once again has identified some remaining issues on which the judge wants to hear more from Perry before ruling.

    When a judge declares he intends to dismiss a case but does not file a final order, and instead gives the parties leave to file additional amended pleadings, that is usually an indication the judge wants to make sure there is nothing he is missing. Or, it means the court is not giving either party what it wants as a way of suggesting a settlement would be wise. I don’t know, I am not Perry’s lawyer, but as an interested observer that is what the court’s actions and the facts appear to reveal.

    The people who deride Perry falsely claim she wants to fight it out in court, but the actual record proves the School Board rejected Perry’s settlement offer, which when boiled down was to rescind the resolution targeting her by name for exclusion from Board proceedings.

    If the School Board had done that and covered the reduced costs of lawyers who helped her, it would have saved School District most of the more than $200,000 already allocated for legal fees and liability insurance to defend its political pride.

    Instead of admitting it had gone too far by asserting power to strip Board member Perry of her rights and duties as an elected Board member, the Board has aggressively doubled down, as it has done in several cases on advice of the same lawyer.

    By using lawsuits to neutralize public opposition on political rather than legal issues, the Board has spent more than a million recently and repeatedly has lost in the end. But by the time the cases are decided no one remembers what the problem was, and the local press does not remind the public the court decided the School Board was wrong.

    That was true in the case of sadistically bullied teacher Joan McKnight, as well as the recent three judge state court of appeals ruling that the Board and Superintendent violated student rights in the Student Doe case. The lesson is that if a teacher or student related problem is important enough to take aggressive legal action, it is vital that the School District act with competence, lawfully and with rectitude.

    If a long tenured teacher is allegedly under the influence of alcohol, or students are accused of racial hate acts, then it is more important than ever that due process and equal protection are respected, and state law is followed. In the McKnight and Student Doe cases the courts decided the Superintendent and Board abused authority and acted without legal authority, and the local press who had sensationalized the cases wet silent.

    Before she stood her ground in the face of aggressive legal tactics, Perry talked to several public interest education and civil rights lawyers, all of whom correctly told her the law allowing limited secrecy in School Board actions has an exemption of Board members who are challenging whether confidentiality rules were lawfully imposed.

    It was the School Board majority that escalated and threatened Perry with lawsuits for challenging Board compliance with rules that prevent unjustified closure of meetings. State law makes it clear confidentiality rules can be imposed only if a properly closed meeting is the only source of Board member knowledge of information or issues discussed secretly and in a lawfully convened closed meeting.

    Instead, our School Board and its lawyer tried to silence Perry by shifting its burden to justify closed meeting secrecy rules, and instead force Perry to justify her discussion of information and issues that she was aware of from sources other than a closed Board meeting, including statements from the public at open Board meetings.

    Yet, state law expressly provides that discussing information and issues in a closed meeting does not make it secret if the same information and issues are discussed in public. But in the past Board members with limited civic literacy have passively surrendered their right by allowing the Board and its lawyer to bluff, bully and trick them into silence.

    By simply calling a closed meeting to discuss information and issues that are politically controversial and inconvenient for the Board, the current Board majority has strived to impose silence and suppress debate on this sensitive issues. But inconvenient, sensitivity and controversy do not matter if the information and issues are already separately in the public domain.

    That’s not how it works under state law, and when Perry could not be silenced the Board and its lawyer acted under the color of law to exclude her by name selectively and discriminatorily from proceedings of a representative body to which she was duly elected.

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