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The court ruling: from my point of view

Stu New Laguna’s coverage on dismissal of my lawsuit (“Fair Game” Oct. 22) channels the narrative of the School Board majority. Along with many in our community, I see the ruling very differently. 

My case arose after a closed meeting on March 26, 2019, when the School Board went into closed secret session due to alleged litigation threat. Instead, we heard a seemingly absurd report by Board counsel that the superintendent might sue the District! Supposedly for damage to his reputation, because I had expressed concern that parents, teachers and even students reported fear of retaliation if they questioned School Board policies.

Mark Breese, the lawyer hired by the board, admitted that no one had actually threatened suing the district but it was possible someone might. I suggested that we focus on an open dialogue on how to make it safe for public questioning of board policies without fear. 

I also requested that we work on this issue together and enable our fellow citizens to express their opinions without fear. 

The Board lawyer then sent me a letter threatening personal legal consequences if I continued to speak out. I had a right and a duty to seek advice on my legal rights from experts, including a lawyer in the District Attorney’s office and head counsel for CAL AWARE in Sacramento. I was advised by both that the lawyer’s letter was not privileged and that I did not violate the Brown Act or give the superintendent plausible grounds to sue me or LBUSD.

If the Board truly believed I violated the law, Brown Act remedies include referral to the DA or seeking an injunction, but then the unlawful meeting and intimidation letter would have been scrutinized. To avoid that, the Board adopted a politicized special resolution to give itself the power to exclude me from meetings.   

I refused to be silenced, and my lawsuit was to nullify the anti-democratic Board resolution threatening to exclude me from meetings. My legal action held the Board accountable, and on advice of its lawyers the Board allowed its unconstitutional resolution to expire as a litigation tactic to “moot” my case, and claim “no harm, no foul,” because the Board only threatened to violate my constitutional rights.

But adoption of the resolution to exclude me was retaliation and intimidation violating my rights. So, my lawyers chose federal not state court to challenge our School Board’s infringement on my constitutional right to represent voters who twice democratically elected me. 

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to hear School Board abuse of power case demonstrates federal courts can be the right venue. And my lawyers have been successful in public interest cases like mine seeking reform not compensation. 

But unlike some federal courts the judge offered to consider amendments to the complaint on the question of whether the allegations were against the Board and superintendent for individual misconduct, or against the state, which has immunity unless it is waived. After seemingly endless delays due to pandemic and litigation tactics, the judge decided the urgency had passed and dismissed with findings of fact or law at issue in the lawsuit.

That means the court’s ruling did not reach the merits of the case about confidentiality and the special board committee. Still, that didn’t stop the School Board president and superintendent from issuing a misleading statement seeming to falsely imply the court validated the Board’s unproven allegation that I violated Brown Act confidentiality rules by challenging the Board’s resolution enabling my exclusion from closed meetings.

Facts speak louder than spin. I never stopped advocacy the Board was trying to silence. It was the Board that abandoned its abuse of power intended to silence me. I appealed my case for future Board members, and if I now don’t pursue further review as allowed by law it is because other similar cases are now reaching the U.S. Supreme Court that hopefully will prevent abuse of power by local school boards.

As always, my priority will continue to be serving students, citizens, parents and teachers, as I did teaching Special Education and regular education in LBUSD for 35 years. I‘m grateful voters elected me twice, and that those supporting me now for standing my ground also are encouraging me to run again. Until the time for that decision comes, I will continue working to make our good schools better. 

Dee Perry, board member

LBUSD Board of Education

Laguna Beach