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Judge Throws Out Brown Act Lawsuit

Ruling says it's enough that trustees discussed the reinstatement of furlough days at a public meeting.

An Orange County Superior Court judge threw out Monday the case a local resident filed against the  claiming trustees violated the state’s open meeting law when it .

Judge Gregory Lewis did not buy the argument, put forth by Laguna Hills attorney Wayne Tate, that the trustees had to vote separately to restore the furlough days to two employee groups that did not have automatic restoration language in their contracts.

“The agenda and minutes of the  show that reinstatement of furlough days was discussed,” Lewis said. “The issue of furlough days was discussed in an open forum.”

The special meeting to which Lewis referred was scheduled after Tate’s client, Jim Reardon of San Juan Capistrano, put the district on notice that trustees violated the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state law that requires publicly elected officials to conduct most business at open meetings.

Tate argued that because no vote occurred at the March 16 meeting, the meeting did not “correct and cure” the Brown Act violations. At that meeting, the trustees re-approved the existing contracts and agreements for the teachers, non-teachers, Teamsters and management.

Only contracts with the teachers union, Capistrano Unified Education Association, and California School Employees Association contained language that would have automatically restored furlough days should the district receive more funding than first anticipated when trustees approved the 2010-11 budget.

Jack M. Sleeth, Jr., the attorney representing Capo Unified, said other employees get their days restored when teachers do, even without a separate vote. He acknowledged there was no vote that specifically reinstated the furlough days for Teamster employees and management.

“If the teachers come back to school, someone needs to bring the kids to school. Principals need to be at school to supervise the teachers,” Sleeth said.

Tate countered that Sleeth’s arguments were not backed up by any precedent-setting cases.

“The board has to vote” to make changes to the Teamsters’ contract and management’s agreement, Tate said.

Lewis disagreed. In a written ruling, Lewis said it was enough the trustees talked about the issue at the March 16 meeting.

“[I]t appears the issue of the reinstatement of furlough days was addressed in public and, thus, the intent of the Brown Act was complied with,” Lewis wrote in a tentative ruling he made final.

After the hearing, Tate said he will discuss appealing the decision with his client.

“I think the judge is just clearly wrong,” he said.

Sleeth “appeared” by teleconference and was not available for comment.

Penny Arévalo January 31, 2012 at 12:29 AM
It's a good question. But so far, I haven't gotten a response from either Mr. Sleeth or Marcus Walton, district spokesman.
Kim January 31, 2012 at 04:58 PM
If no one is heald accountable for breaking the law, and a Judge backs up those actions, where does that leave us? It's a sad state of affairs, as the Brown Act was clearly violated. No wonder so many people think they are above the law and act in that manner, Why not if there are no consequences. I hope there will be an appeal.
Nom de Plume January 31, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Mr Reardon needs to stop his repeated, expensive and unnecessary harassment of CUSD, which is driving up its expenditures and enriching attorneys with money that should be going to educate our children!
Shripathi Kamath January 31, 2012 at 05:20 PM
Are you crying "judicial activism" because a judge did not render judgment just like you would want him to?
Kim January 31, 2012 at 05:36 PM
Nom de Plume...Mr. Reardon is standing on principal, right vs. wrong, legal action vs. illegal actions. If we don't stand up for what is right, we become spineless jelly fish, just navigating thru life. The law is the law and it should be upheld, plain and simple.
shelly January 31, 2012 at 06:11 PM
Kim, Mr. Reardon had his day in court. It is his right. But the law did not agree with him. The law is the law.
Kim January 31, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Having followed the facts of this case, I would be most interested in what another Judge's interpretation of the law is under appeal.
Pam Sunderman January 31, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Kim, Surely you don't think this is a Supreme Court case. At what point will enough be enough? What harm was done to anyone here? The judge ruled the Brown Act was not violated. Everyone knows what happened. What is the point of further litigation which will drain badly needed time and resources needed for the children. Mr. Tate argued on a technicality and he lost. Case closed.
Shripathi Kamath January 31, 2012 at 06:54 PM
If this other judge's opinion is the same, or they deny an appeal, then what? Would you agree with the law, or would you still be crying foul because the judge did not render an opinion you liked? Or would you, like a law abiding citizen, accept our legal system, and call for the district to be reimbursed court costs and attorney fees?
Kim January 31, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Jolly girl.......We'll just see about the "case closed" part of your comment!
Penny Arévalo January 31, 2012 at 07:00 PM
SK, even though CUSD won't answer questions, I did find this: http://www.cnpa.com/full_story.cfm?id=801 Under a fairly new law, successful defendants in Brown Act lawsuits cannot seek attorneys fees from the unsuccessful plaintiffs.
Pam Sunderman January 31, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Kim, What exactly is his (and your objective)? And if it is truly noble then perhaps Mr. Tate would take the appeal on pro bono.
Capo Parent January 31, 2012 at 07:49 PM
What is troubling is the fact that CUSD cheerleaders have no problem with the fact that CUSD had to vote to impose furlough days, but did not have to vote to restore furlough days; that furlough days were "restored" because they were discussed at a public meeting. Under that warped logic, CUSD could impose furlough days by simply discussing this at a public meeting. This ruling is troubling given its rational and its implication. It means less accountability for our elected officials, and that should scare everyone, no matter were you stand on CUSD.
Shripathi Kamath January 31, 2012 at 07:52 PM
So Game Theory favors suing for Brown Act violations, if one has an attorney who is between cases and has some time on her hands. I suppose that is fair, otherwise a powerful board could simply make it unaffordable to catch their violations.
SJCNative January 31, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Or, CUSD could do anything else without notifying the public.
Pam Sunderman January 31, 2012 at 09:24 PM
The decisions about imposing and restoring were made at the same time in reality...when the contract was improved. Whether or not you agree with the so called "triggers" being met. Once the contract was approved it set in motion the events that followed. The rationale and the implications are simple. Follow the contract signed by the previous board. The judge ruled that this was done in an appropriate manner. You don't agree and that is your prerogative. But at some point this has to end and I believe enough money has been spent on it. It does not mean less accountability...the legal system held CUSD accountable and it should now be over. To do more is to follow along the lines of Orly Tavitz and keep on looking for whatever it is she is looking for...which has nothing to do with justice. Can't you let this go? For the sake of the students of CUSD? They need the money more than the lawyers.
Kim January 31, 2012 at 11:09 PM
JollyG...The point here is the courts ruling is troubling given the basis for it's decision...it sends a clear message that the Brown Act does not really matter and means less accountability for all elected officials including City council members...that opens the door to do as they please, with no consequences for breaking the law. That should bother any good law abiding citizen no matter what the topic of discussion is. It's interesting that you are pitting the lawyers against CUSD, when it is CUSD, by their arrogant actions, that has left the citizens with no other recourse.
Capo Parent January 31, 2012 at 11:46 PM
JG The contracts with the teachers union & CSEA had language that provided for automatic restoration if certain triggers were meet. Neither CUMA or the teamsters had any such language in their agreements. Since CUSD had to vote to impose furlough days on both, how is it that CUSD didn't have to vote to restore furlough days to each? Nevermind, why should logic, common sense and the rule of law mean anything.
Capo mom February 01, 2012 at 01:16 AM
The part I find troubling about this is the board clearly meant to mislead the public about what they had done. There is no other explanation their attempt to keep it private for weeks, to claim that their was no vote when one and their conflicting stories to the DA. As I have said before, this is not the way people with good intentions behave. They may have met the legal requirement for a correct and cure according to this judge. But their behavior stinks. This was nothing more than a union board payoff. That's why they went to such lengths to hide it. CUEA and its ardent supporters insist that the trigger was met-that trigger being unexpected revenue from the state. How can there have been unexpected revenue when we have had year after year of funding shortfalls? Why did we roll over those TRANS several weeks ago if there was extra money? And what happens now? http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2012/01/controller-state-to-run-out-of-cash-in-march-without-action.html
shelly February 01, 2012 at 07:43 PM
capo mom, The part I find troubling is that the former board unlike any other board in the state at the time imposed a contract even though teachers accepted cuts. This caused a strike and then the board had to backtrack put trigger language into the contract. What I find troubling is that the former board could have negotiated cuts for the entire time of the contract but instead they made it political and imposed a contract. If trigger language were not written into the contract that the former board signed then there would have been no restoration or questions asked about triggers met or not met because the cuts would have just been cuts for the length of contract. But the former board made it political and did not seem to care what was best for the children or the district. You can thank the former board for the contract trigger language and the restoration of any funds because it was the former board who signed the contract.

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