School Board Member Threatens Suit Over Exclusion

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By LB Indy staff

A Laguna Beach Unified School District board member excluded from a new committee created to hear confidential matters has threatened to sue, escalating a fight that already had a litigious tone.

Board member Dee Perry’s lawyer, Kathleen Loyer, said Wednesday she has not yet received a response to her June 26 letter outlining her case against the Laguna Beach Unified School District. She’s considering seeking an emergency court order to halt the committee in addition to a lawsuit, which can’t be filed until 60 days after her letter.

“I think it’s really important for the public to understand the ball is in the district’s court,” Loyer said. “If the district wants to settle this, they have 60 days to say ‘OK, let’s sit everybody down and calm everybody down.'”

If not, “they give her no choice. They’ve backed her into a corner,” Loyer said.

Board executive assistant Victoria Webber referred a request for comment to Leisa Winston, assistant superintendent for human resources and public communications. Winston hadn’t responded as of press time.

Loyer believes Perry’s board colleagues are violating her civil rights by limiting her ability to participate in discussions through a “sham subcommittee” aimed at thwarting her freedom of speech and association “and her ability to fully and competently represent her constituency, the taxpayers of Laguna Beach,” according to Loyer’s nine-page letter.

Loyer addressed the letter to board President Jan Vickers, members James Kelly, Carol Normandin and Peggy Wolf, as well as Superintendent Jason Viloria and the school district’s lawyer, Mark Bresee.

Bresee recommended in June that the board create the committee after learning Perry distributed an email in which he accused her of illegally sharing confidential district information through her public criticisms of school officials. Dated April 17, the email cited Perry’s “public, derogatory” comments about students facing retaliation for their parents’ activism and her claim that she’d faced retaliation, too.

“My message here is simple: My client is at risk of litigation and potential liability arising from your conduct, and I am taking another step through this email in an attempt to avoid that litigation from being initiated. In that context I am also trying to protect you, because this conduct could not only get the District sued but it could get you sued as well,” Bresee wrote.

He headlined his message, “CONFIDENTIAL: ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGE,” but Perry said at the June 11 meeting two people advised her the email did not contain confidential information, and she felt she needed advice because the email threatened litigation. She objected to the new committee and accused her colleagues of vengefully exasperating their already strained relationship. Loyer’s letter mentions a December controversy in which board members bypassed Perry for president, despite rules indicating it was her turn. Loyer said they discriminated against her by skipping her twice, in violation of board policy and “the tenants” of California’s public meetings law and based on “her political beliefs, strong advocacy on behalf of the students and open-door policy to her constituents.”

Loyer said the board also defamed Perry and inflicted “severe emotional distress.”

“Her constituents are now denied the representation that they selected in the election. She continues to be under a veil of intimidation, scrutiny, and the subject of public vilification,” Loyer said.

The letter demands damages “in excess of $25,000,” but Loyer said that’s a procedural requirement and Perry, a retired teacher, “is not in this for money.”

Loyer said Perry recently returned from an overseas trip and will attend the July 16 school board meeting.

It’s unclear if the new committee has met. Bresee said when he recommended its formation the board could use it at member discretion regarding confidential matters such as personnel and litigation issues. He did not respond to a request for comment this week.

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