Capistrano Unified School District Settles School Board Misconduct Lawsuit for $475,000
Hodes Milman Liebeck Represents Plaintiffs Against School District and Seven School Board Members
ORANGE COUNTY, CA – The Capistrano Unified School District has reached an out-of-court settlement with a group of concerned citizens who were dissatisfied with the School Board of Trustees, and later placed on an “enemies list” because of their participation in a voter recall effort. The settlement amount is $475,000. Dan Hodes of Hodes Milman Liebeck and Ronald Mark of Law Offices of Ronald H. Mark represented the plaintiffs.
In November 2005, a group of citizens filed recall petitions against seven School Board Trustees. The petition, filed with the Orange County Registrar of Voters, contained 177,947 signatures from voters within the district. In its lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed there was direct and unlawful contact between the Registrar of Voters and the School Board’s then Assistant Superintendent during the vote counting process. The Registrar later invalidated 35 percent of the petition signatures, thereby dooming the recall initiative.
Two weeks after that, the Registrar facilitated an illegal meeting with the Assistant Superintendent and another District employee to give them access to the identities of those involved in the petition signature gathering process. The District then created an ‘enemies list’ which contained detailed information about those who gathered petition signatures and their children in district schools. Various forms of retaliation were allegedly inflicted on children of those named in the “enemies list” including refusing to provide benefits which had previously been provided.
“At the core of representative government is a citizen’s right to petition for redress of grievances and to do so free of recrimination. This School District and these government officials tried to deny these citizens that fundamental right through punishment and intimidation,” said attorney Dan Hodes, of Hodes Milman Liebeck, which represented the plaintiffs against District with co-counsel Ron Mark. “These people were singled out solely because they chose to exercise their constitutionally-protected rights. I’m pleased that the District ultimately did the right thing.”
The Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent, now both fired from their posts by the School District, have been criminally charged. Their trial is set to begin in the fall of 2009. The case remains ongoing against the County of Orange and the Registrar.