Monday, December 24, 2007
Capistrano Unified Former Superintendent & Assistant Indicted; used funds for enemies list
Capistrano Unified district officials are not exactly the "white knight" role models that the district offers to students.
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Friday, May 25, 2007
The Orange County Register
Saturday, June 16, 2007
The Orange County Register
Arraignment Postponed Capistrano
Unified School District
The arraignment of two retired Capistrano Unified officials set for Friday was put off until July 13 so the defendants could review grand jury testimony. Ex-Superintendent James Fleming and former Assistant Superintendent Susan McGill face charges related to the creation of “enemies lists.” McGill is also accused of lying to the grand jury. Ronald Brower, Fleming’s attorney, said the arraignment was delayed because grand jury testimony was unavailable until this week. In e-mails, Fleming has denied the charges and called McGill’s indictment “a terrible injustice.”
McGill declined to comment as she left court.
Capistrano Unified retired head charged with using public
funds to create ‘enemies lists' and sway elections.
By SAM MILLER
Former Capistrano Unified School District superintendent James Fleming was indicted on charges of misappropriating public funds in creating “enemies lists” of political foes, making him the highest-ranking school official ever indicted in Orange County, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said. Fleming, who retired in August after 15 years in charge of the 50,000-student south county district, was charged with three felony counts that could result in four years in prison. He was released on his own
Susan McGill, a retired assistant superintendent, also was indicted and failed to appear in court Thursday. She is charged with conspiracy and perjury, which could carry sentences of four years, eight months. Superior Court Judge Daniel Didier issued a $20,000 arrest warrant for McGill but said she can surrender June 15, when she and Fleming will be arraigned.
“The investigation and the grand jury inquiry found no legitimate educational purpose for any of the multiple versions of the enemies lists that were created,” Rackauckas said at a news conference Thursday. “It's a shame that resources were shifted away from students to create an unlawful list of political enemies.”
The indictment is the latest chapter in the ex-superintendent's fall from power. Fleming, 64, was once the state superintendent of the year, the highest-paid education chief in Orange County and the leader of the high-achieving south-county district. But he retired in August amid numerous accusations raised by Register investigations.
Thursday's announcement reopens old wounds in CUSD. Since August, district officials have repeatedly called for the community to move on, after a district-commissioned inquiry, a legal settlement, board policy changes, a political shakeup and the hiring of a new superintendent. Yet the controversies still stir emotions for many parents.
Fleming declined to comment as he entered an elevator to leave the courtroom. His attorney, Ronald Brower, said the indictment is an unreliable account of Fleming's actions.
“The school district commissioned retired judge (Stuart) Waldrip to investigate this, (with) no limit on subject matter,” Brower said. “He issued a report which found no criminal wrongdoing on the part of Dr. Fleming.
“There are parts of that report (Fleming) does dispute. To state the obvious, he doesn't dispute the part that said there was no criminal wrongdoing,” he said.
The indictments focus on two lists of political opponents, which included some personal information and information about children.
The first, created in spring 2005, listed parents – as well as a journalist and at least one student – whose names and e-mail addresses were on an early mailing list by recall leader Kevin Murphy.
Brower said Fleming had the first list created because of fears that recall leaders had hacked into the district's database. Rackauckas said the prosecution will contradict that.
The second, created shortly after the recall failed in December 2005, compiled names of and information about people who had collected signatures in the recall effort. McGill was serving as the district's liaison to the Registrar of Voters Office when Fleming sent her and former spokesman David Smollar to examine signed petitions. While there, Smollar copied down the names of signature gatherers, and gave them to Fleming.
Fleming told the Register he immediately discarded the list. “I couldn't give it back to him fast enough,” he said. District memos, though, showed that McGill had her secretary use the district's confidential pupil record database to gather information – including spouse names, children's names and schools, addresses and phone numbers– on each name collected.
She sent the information to Fleming with a note: “Per your request, attached are the lists of individuals who were listed as petition signature-gatherers along with the information on whether they have children in CUSD.”
The first list, and McGill's visit to the registrar of voters to collect the names, were revealed by the Register in July. Rackauckas said the investigation turned up no evidence that the district had used the lists to retaliate against parents involved in the recall.
But a parent who said she faced retaliation says she wasn't asked about her experience. “Retaliation is a subtle action. There's not going to be written documentation. Fleming isn't going to have an e-mail he sent saying ‘Go get this woman,' ” said recall backer Rebecca Bauer, who said her son was left out of a video montage featuring 125 classmates and denied an award at Ambuehl Elementary after she became involved in the recall. Fleming and Shele Tamaki, principal of Ambuehl, have denied her accusations.
“My point is, what other reason would they have for creating those lists?” Bauer asked. “It should be obvious to the public there was no other reason for those lists to be created.”
Rackauckas said there may be more to come from the grand jury, which has heard testimony from 14 CUSD employees on allegations ranging from conflicts of interest to violations of open meetings laws to the use of Taxpayer funds for political activities.
McGill testified Aug. 16 and 21. Rackauckas said she lied to try to hide the existence of the second list. Fleming was called to testify and pleaded the Fifth Amendment, Brower said. The district attorney's investigators in August raided Fleming's office, taking folders and two computers. “We're not finished yet,” Rackauckas said. “We still have work to do here.”
CUSD spokeswoman Beverly De Nicola would comment only in a prepared statement Thursday.
“This is now a judicial process,” the statement read. “Capistrano Unified is an excellent school district that is committed to providing the highest quality of education possible … and we will continue to do so.” Trustees Ellen Addonizio, Anna Bryson and Larry Christensen – who ran on a “reform” slate in November – released a joint statement calling the indictments “validation” for parents, teachers and taxpayers who have expressed concerns in the past. “I want to move on. But I want things corrected before I move on,” Christensen said.
Fleming retired in August after 15 years with CUSD, and new Superintendent Dennis Smith was hired in March. The district initially paid Fleming's legal bills, but quit that arrangement in March.
McGill, a Laguna Beach resident who had served in multiple roles during her 25 years in CUSD, also retired last summer. She could not be reached Thursday.
[Blogger's comment: Nixon wasn't the only politician to have an enemies list!]
ENEMY LIST: During the district attorney's press conference to announce charges brought against Fleming and McGill, two examples of the so-called "enemies list" were displayed.
March 2005 — San Juan Capistrano father Kevin Murphy begins organizing a recall of Capistrano Unified trustees, alleging mismanagement.
March 2005 — A CUSD principal forwarded to James Fleming an e-mail intended for recall supporters. Later, accusers say, the superintendent instructed an assistant to take the names to create a spreadsheet on them, based on confidential district records.
March 21, 2005 — According to accusations against him, Fleming drafted a confidential memo to the CUSD trustees outlining the names of the recall proponents and their strategies. He later e-mailed a similar memo to a number of district staff and administrators.
December 2005 — The county registrar ruled there weren't enough valid signatures to force a recall election.
Jan. 6, 2006 — Susan McGill, at Fleming's direction, drove to the Registrar of Voters office with district spokesman David Smollar to review recall signature petitions. They wrote down names of people who collected signatures.
Jan. 12, 2006 — McGill wrote a memo for Fleming, listing petitiongatherers, whether they had children in CUSD and which schools the children attended, according to district documents.
February 2006 — The District Attorney's Office began its investigation of CUSD.
July 10-11, 2006 — The Register reports that the district kept a list of its political opponents, including personal information, and that district employees collected recall volunteers' names – which should have been kept sealed – during the January visit.
Aug. 16, 2006-May 9 — The grand jury heard from 14 witnesses on 14 days. McGill testified Aug. 16 and 21, and, according to the indictment, lied under oath.
Aug. 30, 2006 — Fleming retired.
May 24 — Indictments against Fleming and McGill were unsealed.
Register staff writer Larry Welborn contributed to this report.
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