Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Former high-ranking official in Scientology sued for saying she saw abuse

Scientology says "apostates are not reliable with respect to their former faith." I disagree. The people who are no longer under the control of the religious hierarchy are the only ones who are truly free to tell the truth.

A former high-ranking official in Scientology says she saw abuse
ABC News
Feb. 29, 2012

The Church of Scientology, known for celebrity and controversy, is now
in the middle of another public relations crisis as a former
high-ranking official has created a firestorm, first with an email to
church members and then testimony in a Texas state court alleging she
saw the church's leader punch another executive in the face, and that at
his direction she herself was slapped.

For 17 years Debbie Cook ran the church's spiritual mecca, the so-called Flag Base in Clearwater, Florida, where she ultimately rose to the title of captain. But Cook testified this month that beginning in 2005 she saw behavior exhibited by church leader David Miscavige that disturbed her deeply.

"I witnessed Mr. Miscavige physically punching in the face and wrestling to the ground another very senior executive at Scientology International level," Cook testified in court.

A few weeks later in an interview with ABC News, Cook repeated that assertion. She also said -- as she had testified -- that Miscavige never hit her, but that he ordered his assistant to slap her, and that slap was so hard that Cook was knocked down.

In numerous letters to ABC News, Scientology officials have denied that David Miscavige ordered Debbie Cook to be slapped, or that he punched a fellow executive. In addition, the church sent ABC News a letter signed by that executive in which he wrote, "This alleged incident did not occur and I would remember it if it had."

Mary Marsh/ABC News
A former high-ranking official for the Church... View Full Size

New PR Crisis for Scientology Watch Video

Former Executive Speaks Out Against Scientology Watch Video

Scientology: Reaching for the Stars Watch Video

Cook also testified that in 2007, while doing work at the Scientology International Base in Southern California, she was taken to a pair of double-wide trailers she called "the hole." She testified that she was held in the "hole" for seven weeks, that there were bars on the windows and security guards posted at the door, and that the food was "was like leftovers, slop, bits of meat, soupy kind of leftovers thrown into a pot and cooked and barely edible."

She also testified that the trailer was infested with ants, that they slept in sleeping bags on the floor, and that on several occasions, the electricity was cut and the temperature reached 106 in the trailers.

During this time, Cook testified, she and other executives were repeatedly pressured to confess their alleged misdeeds. As she had said in court, Cook told ABC News that she was made to stand in a trash can and water was poured over her as people screamed at her to admit "bad things."

In a letter to ABC News, a lawyer for the Church of Scientology flat out denies that the "hole" exists, or that there was ever a place known as "the hole."

The letter states that Ms. Cook and certain other Scientology executives and staff members "did participate in religious discipline, a program of ethics and correction entered into voluntarily as part of their religious observances," but insists, "the idea that the church held her or anyone else against their will [is] denied."

The letter goes on to call Cook's account of her disciplinary experience "inaccurate, misleading, and intended to create sensationalized media attention."

When Cook and her husband decided to leave the Church of Scientology in October 2007, they signed lengthy contracts agreeing not to publicly criticize Scientology or its leaders, and in return received checks for $50,000 apiece.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Director of First 5 LA resigns following audit

See all posts re First Five.

Director of First 5 LA resigns following audit

November 11, 2011
Joanna Lin
California Watch

Evelyn Martinez, executive director of First 5 LA, resigned late yesterday, less than three weeks after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors started the legal process to take over the independent agency that uses tobacco taxes to fund early childhood development programs.

The Board of Supervisors' 4-1 vote Oct. 25 asking the county counsel to initiate the process followed an independent audit that found First 5 lacked oversight of its expenditures, was overstaffed and failed to adequately monitor its contracts.

The agency's board of commissioners, which is led by county Supervisor Michael Antonovich and includes five members appointed by the Board of Supervisors, met in a closed session yesterday and "decided that it was time for new leadership here at First 5 LA," Martinez said to agency staff in an e-mail obtained by California Watch.

Martinez, who has been First 5 LA's top executive since its inception, could not be reached for comment.

In a statement issued to California Watch, Antonovich's staff said: "The projects and operations of First 5 will proceed uninterrupted. Existing grants, contracts, partnerships and initiatives are unaffected by this change."
Pay for First 5 directors varies widely by county
Brown sends mixed message on First 5 funds
More First 5 groups challenge state budget
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The board of commissioners will meet next week to appoint an interim CEO and has directed agency staff to continue working in its existing organizational structure under the supervision of Antonovich and First 5 LA attorney Craig Steele, the statement said.

First 5 LA is the largest of 58 county commissions established after voters approved Proposition 10 in 1998. The initiative placed a 50-cent tax on tobacco products and has generated about $7.3 billion to date. In fiscal year 2009-10, First 5 LA counted nearly $146 million in revenue, doled out more than $157 million in grants and employed 103 people, records show.

In her e-mail, Martinez said she believed she had "more than accomplished" her mission to "build a strong organization that would be staffed with the best and brightest of staff who were committed to helping those children and families in greatest need, and certainly of highest risk."

She also alluded to the agency's uncertain future. In addition to a possible county takeover, First 5 LA is at risk of losing about $450 million in a state budget raid. Lawsuits challenging the funding shift have been filed by several commissions, including First 5 LA, and are pending as a consolidated case in Fresno County Superior Court.

"I know that there is a lot of concern about the future of First 5 LA," Martinez said. "I urge each and every one of you to stay positive about the future, and to keep working as hard as you always have. I hope to stay in touch with many of you, and I am certain our paths will cross again since my interest and passion will remain in being of service to those less fortunate than ourselves."

It was the state funding diversion that prompted First 5 LA commissioners to unanimously authorize an independent audit in February. Antonovich proposed the audit to determine how much money the agency had available – a figure that state officials and commissions have disagreed on.

The audit [PDF] was delivered in two reports – the second [PDF] of which was presented Oct. 25. County supervisors said the findings were shocking.

"The current status of affairs at First 5 is unacceptable," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said at the meeting. "The lack of accountability, the lack of competition in proposals, the lack of information sharing between the staff and the commission itself … any one of these things would be a bell and a whistle. And all of them together is a siren."

In a motion [PDF] introduced by Supervisors Antonovich and Mark Ridley-Thomas, supervisors instructed county staff to return to the board in 30 days with an amendment to establish First 5 LA as a county agency and a transition plan.

Supervisor Gloria Molina, First 5 LA's immediate past chairwoman, was the board's lone dissenter.

"This is clearly a takeover," she said. "It doesn't have anything to do with the audit whatsoever."

First 5 LA criticized the audit, conducted by Harvey M. Rose Associates, as employing "half-truths, faulty assumptions and misleading information to paint a captiously inaccurate picture of First 5 LA's internal financial accounting – which has been recognized with three government accounting excellence awards."

The audit, First 5 LA staff continued, "presupposes a variety of incorrect assumptions that may lead the reader and members of the public to false and damaging conclusions."

First 5 LA would not be the first county commission to go from independent to county status. The Riverside County Children & Families Commission underwent the same transition a few years ago, said Sherry Novick, executive director of the First 5 Association of California, a membership group.

"LA is a very complicated county, and it's not surprising that different people have different thoughts about what should happen," Novick said. "I think (Martinez) put together a large and vibrant organization."

Martinez was among the most highly paid First 5 directors. In 2009-10, she received a salary of $232,178, a $6,000 car allowance, a $10,000 performance bonus and $20,785 in benefits: health, dental, vision and life insurance, employee counseling and deferred compensation.

How isolated and hardline has SDEA become?

The San Diego Education Association since 2008 has:
1) stopped attending monthly meetings with district leaders;
2) left committees where it met with other unions;
3) barred union staff from meeting informally with district staff;
4) drifted apart from its retired members, forbidding them to hold meetings in the union building.

SDEA Executive Director Craig Leedham and Vice President Camille Zombro are believed to be driving the union's hardline stance. Of course, it's Emma Leheny, the CTA head counsel in Burlingame, who lines up the support at the highest levels of CTA.

Teachers Union Turmoil: San Diego Explained
Feb 23, 2012.
by Will Carless
Voice of San Diego

School district officials say the district’s finances will be made or broken by local labor unions in the next couple of years. Without concessions from the teachers union on pay and benefits, district officials say they will have to lay off more than 1,100 employees next year. With the concessions, district bean counters say they won’t have to lay anyone off.
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But the prospect of getting concessions from the teachers union, the most powerful organization in local education, seems slim...

The Teachers Union Gets Tough, and Isolated

Will Carless
Voice of San Diego
February 6, 2012

The teachers union doesn't talk.

The San Diego Education Association's leaders once met monthly with San Diego Unified's superintendent. Those regular meetings no longer happen. Union workers used to meet routinely with district staff, but in 2008 the SDEA leadership banned them from doing so.

The teachers union has walked out on joint committees with other employee unions, and it's even drifted apart from its retired members' group, which no longer meets at the SDEA offices.

Its employees and board members have been instructed not to talk to the media. Its leaders won't answer questions. They won't even answer the phone. Apart from a threatening late-night phone call from union vice president Camille Zombro — "If you want a relationship with us going forward, you won't write this story," — the union's top leaders wouldn't comment for this story.

But former teachers union leaders and staff are talking. So are representatives from other unions that do business with the school district and whose members have worked alongside the SDEA. And so are district officials who have watched the union's attitude and stance thicken over the last few years.

Here's what they say: Driven by charismatically tough, old-school leaders, the union has metamorphosed into a hardline organization that's become ever-more confrontational.

Staff who stood up against the hardline approach have felt compelled to leave the union in recent years. That's left the SDEA increasingly deaf to criticism of either its politics or its methodology, former union officials said. In short, it's become a more insular, less reasonable organization, they said.

This shift in the union's philosophy couldn't come at a more critical time for San Diego Unified.

Late last year, mild-mannered school Superintendent Bill Kowba grabbed headlines when he announced the district might go insolvent. Despite surviving the fiscal year, district projections show a $150 million operating deficit over the next two years.

Almost two-thirds of that $150 million projected deficit is attributable to a union-negotiated deal that restores five unpaid days off and grants teachers a series of pay increases starting this year.

Concessions on these two points, the district argues, are its only realistic way out of the current financial crisis.

Talking is therefore essential, especially since the more-than-8,000-member-strong teachers union dominates labor negotiations. But at the district, there is little hope that the union will engage in negotiations any more in the crucial coming months than it has thus far.

"I think their answer is just 'No,' before they even know what the question is," said Donis Coronel, who spent years negotiating for the district and now works with the union that represents district administrators. "They've kinda become the bullies on the block."

The teachers union's shift has also been catalyzed by factors beyond its leadership.

A frustrating relationship with the district and a stagnating economy have led politically active teachers and parents to distrust San Diego Unified's ability to provide an accurate assessment of its budget.

For several years, the district provided inaccurate or untimely information to unions about the state of its finances. Suspicion has been exacerbated by the district's budget process, which leads to wild fluctuations between projections and reality. Teachers and parents have become tired of hearing predictions of doom and gloom that never seem to come true.

The teachers union has played to that distrust, galvanizing contempt for the district's bean counters and propagating a mantra that the district still has secret pots of money hidden away.

But for some former top officials at the SDEA, that message stopped ringing true a long time ago.

Forced Out by Dogma

Former SDEA Vice President Marc Capitelli stepped down from his leadership position at the teachers union about a year ago.

He said he couldn't keep repeating the SDEA's claims about the district's budget in good conscience.

For years, Capitelli said, the union's instant response to San Diego Unified's woeful budget projections has been to accuse the district of making up numbers and hiding money.

Bill Freeman, the SDEA president, used that line of attack in a September interview about the budget.

"They use fake numbers," Freeman said. "We don't know where the district is right now because of a lack of honesty providing data."

Last month, after Kowba sent out a district-wide memo spelling out the district's latest budget woes, the union responded immediately. In a letter to members, Freeman lambasted the superintendent for putting out misleading, premature forecasts that painted a worst-case scenario.

Capitelli said he doesn't think that's an intelligent or productive way to do business. Nor does he believe it's the truth.

The district is fiscally incompetent, certainly, Capitelli said. But he believes at this point it has also cut out most, if not all, of the fat it may once have had and is now deadly serious about its deficits.

"I could no longer honestly say that the district was hiding money," Capitelli said. "At one point, we had to realize that what the state had done to education funding was real. There aren't just piles of money lying around."

This stance put Capitelli at odds with the union's leaders. The message at the union was clear and rigid, he said, but he wasn't willing to keep trumpeting it. So he had to leave.

Increasingly, the union has been less willing to negotiate or even discuss realities outside its dogma, Capitelli said. It has gradually closed itself off from dissent, he said.

This shift started gaining steam in the mid-2000s. Former SDEA Executive Director Robin Whitlow said she remembers a time when the district and teachers union worked together to solve San Diego Unified's budget problems.

Throughout her tenure, Whitlow and the sitting union president held monthly meetings with the superintendent and other district committees. Whitlow said she was in constant contact with district staff, negotiators and leaders. They spoke every few days by phone, she said.

Will Surbrook, the district's former chief negotiator, concurred.

"Even in the worst of times we would have those monthly meetings," Surbrook said. "A lot of things were accomplished in those meetings, they were very productive."

That era of cooperation was fading fast when she left the union in 2006, Whitlow said.

A new wave of hardliners led by former teacher Camille Zombro had come to dominate the SDEA board, Whitlow said. She increasingly felt there was no place for her style of bargaining.

So she quit.

"They would've fired me if I hadn't," she said.

Whitlow, who is now the chief negotiator at the Administrators Association of San Diego, the union that represents school administrators, said she's watched in dismay as the teachers union has become further entrenched in its attitude of non-negotiation.

An education union's job is to educate its members about the financial realities facing the school district, Whitlow said. That means being honest with the union's members about what they can do to work with the district to forge possible solutions.

The teachers union isn't doing that, she said. Instead, Whitlow said, by reiterating the argument that the budget situation is fine and the district is being dishonest, it's keeping its members "enslaved" to inaccurate information, cheapening the negotiating process.

The Scorned Teacher
Photo by Sam Hodgson
SDEA vice president Camille Zombro at a board meeting in January.

Ask former SDEA leaders, other union representatives and current district officials where this shift started and they all point to one person: Zombro.

Several people who have worked with Zombro said her distrust of the district started back in the early 2000s, when she was still working as a teacher at Baker Elementary School in Mountain View.

Elected as the school's site representative for the teachers union, Zombro aggressively pursued workers' rights, falling afoul of both the school's principal and district leadership.

In 2004, she and eight other district teachers were involuntarily transferred from their sites to new schools. The move, widely considered a punishment for her activism, angered Zombro and forged a suspicion of the district that has stuck with her, said Don Crawford, who worked at the SDEA for 11 years before retiring in 2008.

"She was mistreated and that made her angry," Crawford said.

From those early days, Zombro worked her way up the union ladder, eventually becoming SDEA president in 2006. Her style of leadership became clear during a 2008 dispute between the union and the district.

After the school board reneged on an agreement with the union, a furious Zombro responded by canceling all meetings between the district's human resources staff and her union team. A letter was drafted for employees to sign, stating they would no longer be attending these regular meetings.

Those meetings had previously served as a useful forum for union and district staff to settle disputes in an informal setting, Crawford said. He refused to sign, saying the move would be counterproductive.

"That's indicative of an approach that's more directly confrontational," Crawford said.

A few months later, Crawford retired.

Soon after that, Zombro gained a key ally in the form of the SDEA's divisive new executive director, Craig Leedham.

'You're Either With Him, or You're Against Him'

In more than a dozen interviews for this story, people who have worked or still work with Leedham described him as "nasty," "aggressive," "profane" and "paranoid."

Leedham was hired in 2009 after the SDEA went through two executive directors in quick succession. He fit perfectly because his hardline political philosophy aligned with Zombro's, said Capitelli, who helped hire him.

"He has his view of the world. For Craig, it's either black or white. You're either with him, or you're against him," Capitelli said. "I wouldn't put him as my friend — ever — but if I was in trouble I'd want to have him on my side. You want the nastiest lawyer around, but you don't want to eat dinner with him afterwards."

Zombro stepped down as president of the SDEA in 2010 and now serves as the union's vice president. As executive director, however, Leedham has taken Zombro's fervor a step further, Capitelli and other former and current union officials said.

They said he has created an atmosphere of tension and even fear among union staff, who have been warned that they must represent the district's hardline philosophy.

That high-strung approach has at times spilled outside of the four walls of the teachers union.

At a union committee meeting in 2010, Leedham exploded with rage at a school district staffer who was whispering while he was making a presentation, three people present at the meeting said.

Leedham launched into a profanity-laden tirade at the staffer that shocked the union reps present in the room, the three sources said.

"I've been in this business for more than three decades, and I've never seen anything like it. It was totally unprofessional," said one of the sources, who did not want to be named because of their ongoing relationship with the teachers union.

Leedham and Zombro both declined to be interviewed for this story.

Fomenting Distrust
Photo by Sam Hodgson
San Diego Unified CFO Ron Little presents the district's budget to the school board in January.

If the SDEA's new direction has been driven by leaders like Zombro and Leedham, the wheels for that move have been greased by the district's own actions.

Through a combination of ineptitude, poor communication and a failure to properly explain its complex budget process, district leaders have given the SDEA fertile ground to attack their credibility.

School board trustee Richard Barrera remembers, for example, the budget negotiations of his first term in 2008.

"Literally, in one week, there was a revision of our numbers that made a $180 million problem turn into a $100 million problem almost overnight," Barrera said.

Revisions and recalculations like these cemented the view for the union's leaders that the district didn't have a good handle on its finances, Barrera said.

These budget faux pas were also being noticed by the union's members.

Deborah Hoeltgen, a current SDEA board member, said the notion that the union's leaders have pushed the union in a certain direction is false.

Hoeltgen said the power wielded by the union's executive director and president is overplayed. She said the organization is truly run by its members, who control the union's bargaining tactics. Those members have spent the last few years getting increasingly upset and frustrated with the district, Hoeltgen said.

Every year for the last few years, the district has issued hundreds of pink slips to teachers, only to then rescind the bulk of the layoff notices a few weeks later. That's grated on teachers, Hoeltgen said.

"They're pissed off," she said.

The rise of the union's new leaders also coincided with the ouster of controversial superintendent Alan Bersin, whose near-decade of reforms fueled dissent among teachers during the state's last financial crisis.

The "Bersin Era" as it is referred to in San Diego Unified circles, caused deep divisions between the district's leadership and its staff. Though many of the senior officials who served under him have now moved on, the wounds inflicted by Bersin's tenure are yet to fully heal.

More recently, California's complicated budget procedures have helped perpetuate the district's image among teachers as a bumbling, misinformed bureaucracy.

For each of the last four years, the district's initial budget forecasts have predicted doom, gloom and hundreds of teacher layoffs. Each year, thanks to a combination of risky budgeting by the district and financial shenanigans by the state, the eventual pain has been limited.

The union has responded by calling out the district's accountants as charlatans, arguing that the district has consistently lied about its budget in order to win public approval for layoffs.

That's resonated with teachers and parents alike, who often show up at school board meetings to boo and hiss as financial staffers make their presentations.

This atmosphere of distrust has reached fever pitch in recent weeks as the state has continued to cut into education funding and the school board has again produced a budget calling for more than 1,000 layoffs.

When Times Get Tough, Get Tougher
File Photo by Sam Hodgson
Current SDEA President Bill Freeman has issued strongly worded rebuttals to the district's latest budget projections.

Last October, as district officials started to raise the specter of insolvency, the union barely blinked. It's so far refused to come to the bargaining table and shows no signs of changing that stance.

Political consultant Larry Remer, who has worked extensively with the union, said its position has served it well. It's currently sitting on a contract that guarantees teachers raises as Gov. Jerry Brown threatens billions in education cuts.

And despite the district's threats, only a couple of hundred teachers have actually ended up losing their jobs, Remer said. Instead, the brunt of layoffs has been borne by classified employees like landscapers and custodians.

"The classified union has been a lot more reasonable and what good has it done them?" Remer said.

But as the teachers union remains silent, the chorus of voices speaking out against its dogmatic methodology, even within labor circles, has started to grow.

Jeannie Steeg, former executive director of the school administrators union, said the district's senior financial team isn't just frustrated, it's seriously worried about keeping the district afloat over the next couple of years.

"There's no hidden agenda," Steeg said. "The teachers union has to, at some point, realize that these numbers are real."

Whitlow, Capitelli, members of the school board, senior district management and even officials at the administrators union couldn't agree more. They said the time has come for the SDEA to stop pretending and to start engaging in the realities of the district's crisis.

For their part, the teachers union could be thinking the same thing.

But they're not talking.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

San Diego ACLU works to make sure that only the teachers union speaks for teachers

Why is the San Diego ACLU trying to silence free speech for teachers at the same time that it is protecting free speech for students? I understand why school attorneys want to keep the public unaware of what goes on behind closed doors in our schools, but why is ACLU attorney David Loy so interested in helping them?

I have long wondered if the ACLU was doing California Teachers Association little favors by refusing to take free speech cases for teachers. The recently-retired CTA head counsel Beverly Tucker had previously worked for the ACLU.

I got my answer on April 28, 2010 (see email below from David Loy). Yes, I learned, the ACLU definitely tries to silence teachers who don't speak through the union.

I attended the Annual Membership meeting of the San Diego ACLU today, and listened to ACLU attorney David Loy boast about how the ACLU had protected student free speech.

I asked him, "What about free speech for teachers?"

Mr. Loy responded with only one case, Johnson v. Poway, a case in which the ACLU supported a teacher who draped huge banners with religious admonitions across his classroom. The ACLU's victory in the district court was overturned by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal:

"We thus reverse and remand with instructions that the district court vacate its grant of injunctive and declaratory relief, as well as its award of damages, and enter summary judgment in favor of Poway and its officials on all claims. Johnson shall bear all costs. Fed. R. App. P. 39(a)(3)."

Daniel R. Shinoff, Jack M. Sleeth, Jr. (argued), Paul V. Carelli, IV, Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz, APC, San Diego, California, for defendants-appellants Poway Unified School District, et al

David Blair-Loy, ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties, San Diego, California, for Amicus Curiae American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties in Support of plaintiff (Johnson)

Apparently California Teachers Association didn't take part in this case.

Neither David Loy nor Kevin Keenan could think of another case in which the ACLU had defended freedom of speech for teachers, but they noted that the ACLU frequently defends the free speech rights of law enforcement officers. Is this perhaps because the police unions don't donate to the ACLU like the teacher unions do?

Even Lori Shellenberger, the San Diego ACLU's "civic engagement" attorney, is vehemently uninterested in free speech for teachers. She spoke at the Annual Membership meeting about the voting rights workshops she held for parents throughout the school district, and giving parents the chance to speak about what they wanted from schools. I told Ms. Shellenberger, "What good are voting rights when parents don't know what is going on in schools? Democracy requires an informed electorate. You want to expand parent participation, but you keep parents ignorant by silencing teachers who know what's going on in schools." Ms. Shellenberger said she wasn't interested in free speech. Her associate Vince Hall specifically told me he wasn't interested in my letter to the ACLU board.

It would seem to me that Shellenberger and Hall are unlikely to improve schools unless they're willing to work toward transparency in schools, to reveal the secret life of schools. They are basically asking parents to stand up and address the powers behind the curtain of secrecy in schools in the manner in which Dorothy, the Tin Man and friends addressed the Wizard of Oz. The ACLU wants to make sure the curtain is not pulled back revealing a charlatan pulling strings.

Interestingly, Mr. Keenan is convinced that the U.S. Supreme Court will overrule the Ninth Circuit. "We always win," said Kevin Keenan. If the ACLU wins in the U.S. Supreme Court, it will not be with the aid of the civil libertarians on the court, I believe. It will be with the aid of those who want the U.S. to be a Christian nation. Mr. Keenan's goal is apparently to win, not to stick to the ACLU's principles. He spent years trying to get a huge concrete cross taken down from Mount Soledad in San Diego, only to turn around and try to get it erected (figuratively speaking) in a classroom in Poway. The San Diego ACLU mistakenly reasoned that since other teachers expose students to information about religions around the world, then it's okay for Mr. Johnson to insist to his students that his own personal religious beliefs are law in his classroom.

Not so. The ACLU tried to silence my website discussions about Stutz law firm, which represented the school district in this case. The Court of Appeal didn't go along with the ACLU's position, ruling instead that an injunction completely silencing my discussion of Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz was "exceedingly unconstitutional."

Mr. Keenan bemoaned the fact that the San Diego Zoo has more members that the ACLU does, even when counting all ACLU members in the entire country. The reason might be that the ACLU compromised its principles a bit too often, pushing out ordinary people who demand equal treatment with the good old boys and girls in the ACLU power structure. In fact, Mr. Keenan said to me, "I'm surprised you're still a member." I'm not the one who has a problem with equal treatment for everyone, Mr. Keenan. But I'm curious, how many ordinary people has the ACLU intimidated into giving up their civil rights? They tried to get me to take down my website, but I didn't think much of their exhortations.

Mr. Loy tried to get me to obey an obviously unconstitutional injunction:

to Maura Larkins
date Wed, Apr 28, 2010 at 9:18 PM
...However, the law does not allow anyone - a government official or a private person - to disobey a court order because they believe it is illegal. Under the law, the proper course is to seek appellate review of an order, and/or a stay of the order,rather than to disobey it. The rule of law in our system depends on compliance with court orders until or unless they are stayed or reversed...

Mr. Loy must also have known I was not legally required to de-publish the information about Stutz law firm on my website while the injunction was under appeal. (The mandative aspects of an injunction are staying during that time.) Either Mr. Loy was shockingly ignorant of the law, or he was intentionally deceiving me about the law to protect Stutz law firm when he said, “The rule of law in our system depends on compliance with court orders until or unless they are stayed or reversed...”. Why would he do this? To earn “civility” awards from the Bar Association? As a sort of trade-off of free speech rights, helping Dan Shinoff silence a teacher in exchange for Mr. Shinoff’s agreeing to settle student speech cases? To please donors to the ACLU who care less about education than they do about preserving the power of certain individuals in schools?

The Court of Appeal didn’t agree with Stutz law firm and the ACLU; on August 5, 2011 it ruled that the injunction Mr. Loy wanted me to obey was “exceedingly unconstitutional.” Of course, Mr. Loy knew perfectly well that the injunction was unconstitutional when he insisted that I must obey it.

But here’s the larger question: why did the ACLU board support Mr. Loy’s actions?


I asked this question of ACLU board member Hon. James Stiven. He said, "I'm not getting involved because I'm a part of this organization." Wait a minute. Isn't that exactly why he has an obligation to get involved? He's on the board! He's in charge!

I said, "So if ACLU lawyers do something hostile to civil rights, you wouldn't intervene?"

He said, "I don't know that they have done anything wrong."

I said, "Yes you do. You're a judge."

Here's what they've done wrong:

1) To start with, David Loy aided and abetted a violation of my constitutional rights. I believe he intentionally gave me false legal advice in an effort to silence me.

2) The San Diego ACLU seeks and gets money by false advertising. I have heard ACLU speakers around town repeating what Kevin Keenan said at the 2012 Annual Membership meeting, "We guarantee rights for all people, not just the people we like. We stand up for equal protection of all people."

3) The above tactics have been approved at the highest levels of the San Diego ACLU. The San Diego ACLU Board knows about and tacitly approves the above actions.

ACLU in Rhode Island takes a completely different stand from ACLU in San Diego on religious banners in schools

Prayer banner: Atheist teen speaks out, lands $44,000 scholarship
By Rene Lynch
Los Angeles Times
February 22, 2012

A Rhode Island teen is learning that it pays to deny the existence of God: Prominent atheists plan to present Jessica Ahlquist with a scholarship of at least $44,000 -- and possibly more.

It seems they were impressed with the way Ahlquist, 16, handled herself amid a roiling controversy that began in July 2010, when she complained about a prayer banner hanging in the auditorium at Cranston High School West that referred to "Our Heavenly Father."

School authorities brushed off her complaint, saying the banner was artistic and historic, as it had been hanging there for decades. Ahlquist later joined the American Civil Liberties Union in a suit alleging that the banner made her feel "ostracized and out of place."

After much legal wrangling, a court ruled that the banner needed to be removed -- and an uproar ensued.

The controversy helped Ahlquist, an atheist, collect thousands of friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter.

But it also sparked outrage on behalf of many others who embraced the banner and wanted the school district to stand firm. A state legislator called Ahlquist an "evil little thing." There were death threats. The financially strapped school district spent tens of thousands on legal fees. And recall threats were lodged against the school board. Those school board jobs are still in jeopardy; the district voted last week to end the appeals process to save money...


Penn Judge Tosses Case in Which Muslim Was Accused of Attacking Atheist
By Mark Whittington
Yahoo! Contributor Network
Feb 24, 2012

Jonathon Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, wrote on a disturbing case in which a state judge in Pennsylvania threw out an assault case involving a Muslim attacking an atheist for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
Judge Mark Martin, an Iraq war veteran, threw the case out after ruling that there was insufficient evidence. But then he berated the plaintiff in what appears to be an invocation of Sharia law.

The incident occurred at the Mechanicsburg, Pa., Halloween parade where Ernie Perce, an atheist activist, marched as a zombie Muhammad. Talaag Elbayomy, a Muslim, was accused of attacking Perce. He was arrested by police.

Judge Martin threw the case out on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence, refusing to allow a grainy video of the incident to be entered in. But then he suggested to Perce that Elbayomy was obligated to attack Perce because of his culture and religion. Judge Martin stated that the First Amendment of the Constitution does not permit people to provoke other people. He also called Perce, the plaintiff in the case, a "doofus." In effect, Perce was the perpetrator of the alleged assault, in Judge Martin's view, and Elbayomy the innocent. The Sharia law that the Muslim attacker followed trumped the First Amendment.

Words almost fail.

The Washington Post recently reported on an appeals court decision to maintain an injunction to stop the implementation of an amendment to the Oklahoma state constitution that bans the use of Sharia law in state courts. The excuse the court gave was that there was no documented case of Sharia law being invoked in an American court. Judge Martin would seem to have provided that example, which should provide fodder for the argument as the case goes through the federal courts.
The text of the First Amendment could not be clearer. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof-" It does not say "unless somebody, especially a Muslim, is angered." Indeed Judge Martin specifically decided to respect the establishment of a religion, in this case Islam.

That Judge Martin should be removed from the bench and severely sanctioned goes almost without saying. He clearly had no business hearing the case in the first place, since he seems to carry an emotional bias. He also needs to retake a constitutional law course. Otherwise, a real can of worms has been opened up, permitting violence against people exercising free speech.

It should be noted that another atheist, dressed as a Zombie Pope, was marching beside the Zombie Muhammad. No outraged Catholics attacked him.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Analysts say three initiatives could confuse voters
Michael Gardner
Feb. 21, 2012

Tax initiatives at a glance

• Brown’s initiative would temporarily increase the state sales tax by a half-cent on the dollar and hike the personal income tax rate for those earning more than $250,000. The money would go to schools, public safety and other services.

• Molly Munger, a wealthy civil rights attorney and Pasadena resident, has collaborated with the California PTA to propose an income tax rate increase for nearly every Californian that would gradually escalate depending on earnings. Those revenues would be sent directly to local boards, avoiding the Legislature’s grasp. Most of the increase is dedicated to K-12 and 15 percent for preschools and child care programs. It would expires in 12 years. Munger actually has two similar measures pending and her team will decide later which one to push.

• The California Federation of Teachers, joined by the California Nurses Association, targets the wealthy by raising tax rates by 3 percent for those earning $1 million and 5 percent for filers with incomes of more than $2 million. Revenues would go to schools, colleges, senior programs, roads and public safety. It, too, bypasses Sacramento by sending the money to school boards and other local governing bodies. The increase would be permanent.

SACRAMENTO - Unless someone blinks, voters could face three competing measures on the November ballot that will ask them to raise taxes in the name of schools.

The individual merits of each have been largely overshadowed by growing warnings that the powerful sponsors — Gov. Jerry Brown, teacher unions and the PTA among them — must either coalesce behind a single initiative or risk having voters turn down all three.

Better one than none is the advice.

“The more measures on the ballot, the greater the chance for voter confusion. And confused voters tend to vote no,” Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College, said in an email.

Added Larry Gerston, a political scientist at San Jose State University: “The anti-tax folks are going to let the three sides duke it out and take great glee in knowing they will confuse everyone so much that the ‘no’ side won’t have to work very hard.”

So far, admonitions urging compromise have not been heeded by Brown and supporters of the other measures who have deep convictions and, in some cases, deep pockets to finance the looming campaigns.

“The question is what’s best for our kids,” said Bey-Ling Sha, a San Carlos mother of two boys and the executive vice president of the San Diego Unified Council of PTAs who backs an initiative to increase the income tax on almost everyone, but which puts the biggest bite on the wealthy. The measure is being spearheaded by attorney Molly Munger, a civil rights advocate.

“If a deal could be cut that would be better for kids, sure. But I don’t see that happening. At some point, you have to trust the democratic process,” added Sha, a San Diego State University professor.

Jim Groth, the San Diego-based representative on the California Teachers Association board, said there is still time to reach a deal. But Brown’s supporters, such as the CTA, are convinced their measure — which raises the sales and upper income taxes — will have the broadest coalition because it also helps public safety and social services. While the other measures fund programs beyond K-12, Brown’s has the most diverse distribution list...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Billionaire Romney donor uses threats to silence critics

Billionaire Romney donor uses threats to silence critics
FEB 19, 2012

Frank VanderSloot is an Idaho billionaire and the CEO of Melaleuca, Inc., a controversial billion-dollar-a-year company which peddles dietary supplements and cleaning products; back in 2004, Forbes, echoing complaints to government agencies, described the company as “a pyramid selling organization, built along the lines of Herbalife and Amway.” VanderSloot has long used his wealth to advance numerous right-wing political causes. Currently, he is the national finance co-chair of the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, and his company has become one of the largest donors ($1 million) to the ostensibly “independent” pro-Romney SuperPAC, Restore Our Future. Melaleuca’s get-rich pitches have in the past caused Michigan regulators to take action, resulting in the company’s entering into a voluntary agreement to “not engage in the marketing and promotion of an illegal pyramid”‘; it entered into a separate voluntary agreement with the Idaho attorney general’s office, which found that “certain independent marketing executives of Melaleuca” had violated Idaho law; and the Food and Drug Administration previously accused Melaleuca of deceiving consumers about some of its supplements.

But it is VanderSloot’s chronic bullying threats to bring patently frivolous lawsuits against his political critics — magazines, journalists, and bloggers — that makes him particularly pernicious and worthy of more attention.

In the last month alone, VanderSloot, using threats of expensive defamation actions, has successfully forced Forbes, Mother Jones and at least one local gay blogger in Idaho to remove articles that critically focused on his political and business practices (Mother Jones subsequently re-posted the article with revisions a week after first removing it). He has been using this abusive tactic in Idaho for years: suppressing legitimate political speech by threatening or even commencing lawsuits against even the most obscure critics (he has even sued local bloggers for “copyright infringement” after they published a threatening letter sent by his lawyers). This tactic almost always succeeds in silencing its targets, because even journalists and their employers who have done nothing wrong are afraid of the potentially ruinous costs they will incur when sued by a litigious billionaire.

Numerous journalists and bloggers in Idaho — who want to write critically about VanderSloot’s vast funding of right-wing political causes — are petrified even to mention his name for fear of these threats. As his work on the Romney campaign brings him national notoriety, he is now aiming these tactics beyond Idaho. To allow this scheme to continue — whereby billionaires can use their bottomless wealth to intimidate ordinary citizens and media outlets out of writing about them — is to permit the wealthiest in America to thuggishly shield themselves from legitimate criticism and scrutiny.

* * * * *

VanderSloot is a devout Mormon and has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) since 1965. Over the last decade, he has continuously inserted himself into the political realm in all sorts of inflammatory and influential ways, clearly making him a public figure and fair game for scrutiny...

Then there was VanderSloot’s behavior in response to an award-winning investigative series by The Post Register, a small, independently-owned newspaper in Mormon-heavy Idaho Falls, which unearthed the story of a pedophile in the local Boy Scouts troop who had molested dozens of scouts (the national Boy Scouts of America had succeeded in having the subsequent civil case sealed from public view).

The Post Register sued to obtain those sealed records, and then detailed how a Mormon bishop knew of his pedophile history yet still recommended him as a Scout master, how he was protected by several Boy Scout lawyers who were aware of more abuse but did not tell the boys’ parents, and how top-level local and national leaders of the Mormon Church had also received warnings.

The newspaper then began uncovering the presence of several other scout-master pedophiles. As the Post Register‘s courageous Managing Editor, Dean Miller, detailed here, the backlash against the paper, its editors and reporters was severe: the Boy Scouts in that part of Idaho is associated with and heavily supported by LDS, and “some counties that [the] newspaper serves are more than 70 percent Mormon, and for generations scouting has been the official youth program for Mormon boys.”

In response to this six-part exposé — which won the Scripps Howard Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment – VanderSloot went on a virtual jihad against the newspaper and the principal reporter who exposed the scandal, Peter Zuckerman. VanderSloot bought numerous full-page newspaper ads in The Post Register that attacked the story and explicitly identified the reporter, Zuckerman, as “a homosexual” (Zuckerman had previously written for a small Florida paper about being gay when he lived in that state, but had kept his sexual orientation largely a secret since he moved to rural Idaho). Vandersloot’s full-page ad expressly described the “speculation” that Zuckerman’s homosexuality had made him hostile to the Scouts and LDS: “the Boy Scout’s position of not letting gay men be Scout Leaders, and the LDS Church’s position that marriage should be between a man and a woman may have caused Zuckerman to attack the scouts and the LDS Church through his journalism.”...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

ACLU and CTA lose in effort to allow teachers mail boxes to be used for political literature

The decision of the Supreme Court of California in the case below is perfectly logical, but it would be nice if both school districts and teacher unions could communicate easily with teachers without paying huge amounts of money for envelopes and postage stamps. Perhaps the teachers union could pay a small rental fee for use of the teachers' mail boxes, and part of the deal would be that school boards could also use the mail boxes for political literature.

Of course, this decision may help people to have more face to face contact, since apparently they now must walk up to each teacher and hand them political information if they want to avoid the expense of mailing the literature. But who has all that time?


Plaintiffs and Respondents,


Defendants and Appellants.

No. S156961.
June 18, 2009

California Teachers Association, Priscilla S. Winslow, Joseph R. Colton, Beverly Tucker, Ballinger G. Kemp and Ramon E. Romero, Burlingame, for Plaintiffs and Respondents.

Rothner, Segall & Greenstone, Glenn Rothner, Lisa C. Demidovich...and Jonathan Cohen as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs and Respondents.

...David Blair-Loy... American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties...

Shortly before an election, an employee organization that represents school teachers, and which regularly communicates with its members through school mailboxes, sought to distribute literature through these mailboxes that included endorsements of certain school board candidates.   The school district administration refused to permit such political communication and the employee organization sought a writ of mandate to have that policy overturned.

...Education Code section 7054, subdivision (a)...prohibits the use of “school district ․ funds, services, supplies or equipment” for urging the support or defeat of political candidates or ballot propositions...

“Proponents argue that in general, public funds or resources may not be used for political purposes.   Members of the Legislature, for instance, are prohibited from using legislative funds, resources or personnel time for political purposes, including partisan political activity and advocacy of, or opposition to, ballot measures.   Local government officials are bound by similar prohibitions.   Members of school and community college district governing boards, however, have been exempted from this general rule since 1977.  Education Code section 35174, enacted in 1976, authorizes the use of public resources and employee time for the purpose of urging the support or defeat of school board candidates, school bond measures and any other school ballot measure. This constitutes an inappropriate use of public funds.   Taxpayers' money should not be used for political purposes, whether in state, county, city, special district or school district elections.  

...The bill does, however, repeal the authorization for school board members to use for political purposes district telephones, copying machines, equipment, employees, and materials produced with taxpayer monies.”   (Sen. Rules Com., Off. of Sen. Floor Analyses, Analysis of Sen. Bill No. 82 (Reg.Sess.1995-1996) as amended Aug. 31, 1995, pp. 5-6.)

Two aspects of the above legislative history are noteworthy.  

First, it refers to “materials produced with taxpayer monies,” which school mailboxes clearly are.  

Second, and more significantly, as the legislative history of section 7054 makes clear, it was designed to avoid the use of public resources to perpetuate an incumbent candidate or his or her chosen successor, or to promote self-serving ballot initiatives, thereby compromising the integrity of the electoral process.  

The District contends that permitting employee organizations to use the mailboxes to endorse school board candidates will unfairly advantage those organizations and the candidates they endorse, because it allows them, but not other candidates and organizations, to use the mailboxes to communicate with teachers about these endorsements.   We agree that this special access to an internal channel of communication to influence elections is a potential abuse that section 7054, and the Stanson decision, were designed to guard against.  (See also Vargas v. City of Salinas (2009) 46 Cal.4th 1, 92 Cal.Rptr.3d 286, 205 P.3d 207 [reaffirming Stanson's basic principles].)  

Therefore we conclude, consistent with the purpose of section 7054, that the broad term “equipment” was intended to encompass mailboxes specially constructed at taxpayer expense to serve as a school's internal communication channel, which one group may not use to its exclusive political advantage.   We agree with the Court of Appeal that, unlike school furniture, for example, which may be incidentally used for a host of different purposes, the term “equipment” is plausibly applied to fixtures dedicated to a specific use...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Teachers outraged by intransigence of CTA elites in San Diego Unified budget crisis

Head Counsel Emma Leheny, the real decision-maker for California Teachers Association?

Who really runs CTA? Obviously, not Bill Freeman. He was forced by his superiors to renege on his agreement to pursue legislation to move back the date on which teachers must be informed of layoffs.

In my experience, ALL the "elected" officials in CTA are fronts for the people who truly run CTA: the lawyers CTA's head counsel is Emma Leheny. President Dean Vogel does what he's told.

Rumblings from Teachers After Union Backs Away
February 16, 2012
By Will Carless
Voice of San Diego

...Yesterday, the teachers union stepped away from that deal. Its stance has upset some local teachers, who say the union has botched an opportunity to mend fences with the district while at the same time pushing forward legislation a majority of teachers want.

Late last night, I got this letter from two teachers at Marshall Middle School who are concerned about the direction of the union at a critical juncture for the district. The teachers, who are meeting soon with SDEA President Bill Freeman, want to see more cooperation.

Here's a snippet (I've posted the full letter below):

As educators, we recognize that our classrooms and the learning within is most successful when we embrace the idea of working together to collaborate as we problem solve. Part of this respect comes from recognizing that each person within the classroom has strengths that they can offer in order to achieve the overall goal.

As members of SDEA, we are embarrassed to see that these simple ideas that go to the very core of what we try to foster and develop within our students, helping them become successful adults willing to work with and learn from others, is the opposite of the values SDEA has repeatedly shown in the last two years.

But the real eye-opener for me was the flurry of reader comments I've been reading today on last night's post. One comment, titled an "open letter to Bill Freeman," was left by Mary Laiuppa, an educator, union member, vociferous commenter and near-constant critic of the district.

This time, Laiuppa, whose past comments have praised the union's hard work, aimed her vitriol at the union president:

The union had a great opportunity here and it was just destroyed. Don't tell me the teachers voted against this. No, this was a decision made by the SDEA elites. Sorry but this foot soldier isn't going to roll over and kow tow.

And I'll bet I'm not the only one.

This was a BAD decision. And when it hits the fan I'll be the first to shout "told you so" when the fallout starts to bury the union.

Won't be going down to the offices to make phone calls, stuff envelopes, attend candidate meetings or walk neighborhoods...

Monday, February 13, 2012

Attorney David Loy of the ACLU tells a blogger she must remove all mention of Stutz law firm from her website

The email below was sent to me by Mr. David Loy, head counsel of the San Diego ACLU, in April 2010.  Shockingly, Loy was trying to silence my criticism of public school attorneys.  At the time of this email, I had already filed an appeal that I would later win regarding an injunction by San Diego Superior Court Judge Judith Hayes.

Judge Hayes ordered me never in my life to mention the name of Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz law firm--not even to whisper it to my husband, or to seek counsel from a lawyer, or to report a problem to the police.  The Court of Appeal found this injunction to be unconstitutional and "exceedingly broad." 

But the San Diego ACLU chief counsel insisted that I should remove all mention of Stutz law firm from my website! In fact, since I had filed an appeal, the mandatory aspects of the injunction were stayed and I was not required to take down my web pages about Stutz. I think Mr. Loy knew this. It appears that Mr. Loy himself was intentionally trying to undermine the rule of law, even though he tried to appear to be championing it:

to Maura Larkins
date Wed, Apr 28, 2010 at 9:18 PM
...However, the law does not allow anyone - a government official or a private person - to disobey a court order because they believe it is illegal. Under the law, the proper course is to seek appellate review of an order, and/or a stay of the order, rather than to disobey it. The rule of law in our system depends on compliance with court orders until or unless they are stayed or reversed...

Why did Mr. Loy go out of his way to try to get me to remove all mention of Stutz law firm from my blog?? I believe  that the answer lies in Mr. Loy's relationships with school attorneys.

The ACLU claims that it does not give legal advice regarding cases it refuses, but it turns out that this is false. The ACLU refused my case, but I was given very specific legal advice by San Diego ACLU attorney David Loy regarding the defamation case against me by Stutz law firm. 

Mr. Loy never modified his position, even when I won in the Court of Appeal.

Why was Mr. Loy so determined to make sure that I obeyed the obviously unconstitutional order of Judge Judith Hayes? I'm a third-grade teacher, and I knew the injunction was unconstitutional.

Clearly, Mr. Loy knew perfectly well that he was insisting that I obey an unconstitutional order. I did not follow Mr. Loy's legal advice; I would rather go to jail than obey that order. (And, in fact, Stutz law firm asked Judge Hayes to put me in jail, but she declined.)

Stutz law firm attorney Jack Sleeth argued before the Court of Appeal that my appeal should be dismissed because I disobeyed the trial court's order. Attorney Shawn Martin argued on my behalf that no Appeals Court had ever dismissed a case because an appellant disobeyed the very order that was being appealed.

The Court of Appeal asked Mr. Sleeth if he knew of any case law to back up his argument that since the injunction was a sanction, it therefore was not constrained by the Constitution. He said he had not been able to find any such case law, but he added, "I tried, believe me, I tried!" On August 5, 2011 the California Court of Appeal in San Diego ruled that Judge Hayes' (and Mr. Loy's) demand was "exceedingly unconstitutional."

As I walked out of the Court of Appeal after oral arguments, I was approached by Darren Chaker, who has a website sporting a photo of himself posing with a smiling David Blair-Loy, apparently taken at some ACLU event.

Mr. Chaker advised me to take down my website in exchange for Stutz law firm's agreement to not to make me pay attorney's fees. I told Mr. Chaker that I would rather go to jail. He said, "I'm just advising you to do this because they are so nasty." Then Mr. Chaker went over to Jack Sleeth, and walked out of the courtroom chatting with Mr. Sleeth! Mr. Chaker later told me that he believed Stutz law firm might represent him pro bono. 

So the question remains, why on earth would David Blair-Loy try to silence someone who criticized public school attorneys? Was he serving his own agenda, or the agenda of the board of the San Diego ACLU? Perhaps both. Loy's goal seems to be to maintain a reputation as "highly civil" with his fellow attorneys in San Diego, particularly those who are tasked by local schools with the job of limiting free speech.

Loy refused to litigate abuses by school officials at Southwestern College and other schools, claiming that litigation is the worst option.  More than one of the beneficiaries of David Loy's gentle approach, including Southwestern's Raj Chopra, was later indicted.

Loy refuses to confront schools regarding issues that seriously damage thousands of students, but seeks media attention for his little settlements free speech for a few individual student reports and student newspapers.

But no, Loy doesn't just refuse to deal with the serious issues.  He actively works to undermine those who are trying to talk about the big issues.

Why did the ACLU board support Mr. Loy's actions? Were they trying to please big donors? I talked to board president David Higgins about this, but he claimed that he understood nothing about the law. I explained it to him carefully, but he continued to insist that he understood none of it. Why is such an individual in the position of board president of the San Diego ACLU? My guess is that he was chosen because he's willing to rubber-stamp every decision that David Loy makes, no matter how hostile it may be to civil rights. I conclude that Mr. Higgins does not really care about the constitution. I suspect he has a personal agenda that is limited to his own interests.

Update Dec. 2013: David Loy's pal Darren Chaker Sentenced to Federal Prison for Bankruptcy Fraud

See new posts re David Loy and earlier posts under his former name of David Blair-Loy.

Following is the 2010-2011 ACLU board in San Diego, each member of which tacitly or actively supported Mr. Loy's actions:

William J. Aceves
Candace M. Carroll--Sullivan Hill Lewin Rez & Engel
Paula Doss, J.D.--Director of Human Resources for Equal Opportunity at UCSD
Ruben Garcia
David R. Higgins, Ph.D.
Gregory G. "Greg" Rose
Hon. James Stiven--California Western University
Stephen Whitburn
Mary Cruz
Mark Adams
Pat Boyce
Linda Cory Allen
Michele Fahley
Deborah Fritsch
Kevin "KJ" Greene
Dwight K. Lomayesva
Mark Niblack
Susan Pollock
Yvonne Sanchez

Here is the 2011-2012 ACLU board in San Diego, some of whom are new and were not involved in Mr. Loy's actions:

Mark Adams
Nasser Barghouti (NEW)
Elizabeth Camarena (new)
Candace Carroll
Jeff Chinn (new)
Paula Doss
Michele Fahley
Ruben Garcia
Kevin "KJ" Greene
David Higgins, Board President
Jonathan Lin (new)
Dwight Lomayesva
Jim McElroy (new)
Mark Niblack
Susan Pollock
Greg Rose
Hon. James Stiven
Joanna Tan (AIG!!!) (new)
Stephen Whitburn
Paul Wong SDSU(new)
Andy Zlotnik (new)

431 438 041315

Saturday, February 11, 2012

100 years ago, San Diego banned free speech

Kevin Keenan, Executive Director of San Diego ACLU, supports injunction against a teacher's free speech; the California Court of Appeal says the injunction was "exceedingly unconstitutional."

100 years ago, San Diego banned free speech
Matthew T. Hall
Feb. 8, 2012

On this date 100 years ago, the San Diego police arrested 41 people — 38 men and three women — for standing on a soapbox and addressing the crowd before them. They were intentionally violating a new law that prevented public speaking in the area.

It was an early clash in what’s hailed now as San Diego’s “free speech fight,” a conflict whose echoes continue reverberating amid disputes in recent months between the modern-day San Diego Police Department and Occupy San Diego protesters.

Wednesday at 6 p.m., labor leaders, academics and civil liberties activists plan to commemorate that night and that struggle by standing on soapboxes and speaking out about a range of subjects at the corner of 5th and E streets.

The intersection was once called Heller’s Corner and once known as the place where the Industrial Workers of the World would stand on soapboxes of their own to provoke and recruit those around them. The ban on such behavior wasn’t overturned until 1915.

On Feb. 8, 1912, the first night that city ordinance No. 4623 banned public speaking and singing in a 49-block section of downtown, street speakers figured they faced misdemeanor arrest, Rosalie Shanks wrote in a 1973 article in The Journal of San Diego History.

Instead, the group was prosecuted for a felony charge of conspiracy to break the law.

Last month, history nearly repeated itself. Four Occupy San Diego protesters arrested for chanting during Mayor Jerry Sanders’ State of the City were accused of that same felony — conspiracy to commit a crime. They were never charged with it, though.

Tuesday, with Occupy San Diego protestors in the audience, the City Council assailed its century-old predecessors’ ban on public speaking via a proclamation that expressed a “deep dismay” and a “repudiation” of the “shameful ordinance.”

“As we look back on our city’s past, we also are able to better reflect on where we are today and the commitment we need to make going forward to protect our free speech rights,” said Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who introduced the proclamation.

Kevin Keenan, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial counties, said 100 years ago members of the I.W.W. faced “brutal repression” for speaking out.

“People don’t realize how paper thin the right to the freedom of speech was for much of this country’s history,” Keenan said. “It basically was not worth the paper it was printed on.”

Mike Garcia, one of the Occupy activists who was arrested for chanting during Sanders’ State of the City speech, opposed the council’s proclamation because “It has the audacity to assume that this fight is over by speaking in the past tense.”

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, one of the candidates seeking to replace the termed-out Sanders this year, did not file felony charges against Garcia and three others.

Instead, the City Attorney’s Office is considering misdemeanor charges of disturbing a public meeting. A spokesman said Wednesday the case is still under review.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Miramonte sex abuse: Schools facing Catholic Church-like wave of scandal?

Miramonte sex abuse: Schools facing Catholic Church-like wave of scandal?
The Miramonte School scandal could be a wakeup call about the prevalence of sexual abuse in schools nationwide, experts say – adding that scandals could sweep though education world the way they did though the Catholic Church.
By Gloria Goodale
Christian Science Monitor
February 10, 2012

Noting that sex-abuse incidents have also recently hit universities, including Penn State and Syracuse, activists and analysts are suggesting that schools could be facing a test similar to the one endured by the Roman Catholic Church, when sexual abuse allegations were no longer able to be swept under the rug.

“There is a lot more of this going on than we have any idea about,” says Charol Shakeshaft, a professor in the school of education at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

Report: 15 cases where sex offenders got jobs at US schools

She was hired by the US Departments of Education and Justice in 2004 to conduct the only national study of the incidence of teacher sexual misconduct with students. The report found that some 7 percent of the 4,000 sampled schoolchildren had experienced sexually inappropriate behavior by teachers or administrators. That “translates into about 3.5 million children,” she points out.

Considering that, on average, only 9 to 11 percent of all sexually abused children actually report the abuse, the number could be much higher, says Professor Shakeshaft.

In the 10 days prior to Jan. 30, when the scandal at Miramonte went national, there were no reports of sexual misbehavior between district employees and students, an LAUSD spokesperson reports. Between Jan. 31 and Feb. 3, however, there were nine such reports from schools to the district office.

This does not necessarily mean an uptick in abuse, points out Mark Sudderth, a Texas attorney whose firm specializes in sexual-abuse cases nationally. Rather, the exposure of abuse helps other victims feel more confident about coming forward, he says.

“The media plays a key role here,” he says via e-mail. Broad reporting of the incidents gives parents and educators greater awareness of the potential for harm and leads to greater awareness of signs that abuse may be occurring.

“Sadly,” he adds, “I expect that we will continue to learn of more such incidents as more children become aware that they can come forward and report conduct that, at a minimum, makes them uncomfortable.”

Do consumers have a right to post complaints on Court denies preliminary injunction to Ascentive, LLC

Ascentive v. Opinion Corp.
Citizen Media Law Project
Feb. 9, 202

Ascentive, LLC, a software company, filed suit against Opinion Corp. d/b/a on September 24, 2010, claiming that Opinion Corp., through its PissedConsumer website, infringed on Ascentive trademarks. The complaint alleges seven claims for relief against Opinion Corp.:

The first and second claims allege that Opinion Corp. violated the Civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, 18 U.S.C. 1961-1968, by conspiring to extort and solicit money from organizations that are the victims of complaints on the PissedConsumer website.

The third and fourth claims allege that Opinion Corp. violated the Lanham Act and Ascentive's common law trademark rights, respectively, by using Ascentive trademarks in web addresses such as and

The fifth through seventh claims allege that Opinion Corp. participated in unfair trade practices through its PissedConsumer website, resulting in interference with contractual relations and unjust enrichment.

In its answer, Opinion Corp. asserted that Ascentive's claims were barred by 47 U.S.C. § 230 (CDA 230). CDA 230 provides that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." It also provides that "No cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section." For more information on CDA 230, see the corresponding CMLP Legal Guide entry.

Ascentive filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction on November 23, 2010, attempting to enjoin PissedConsumer from using Ascentive's trademarks in the site's metadata and as subdomains. In its Memorandum in Support of the Motion for Preliminary Injunction, Ascentive maintained that PissedConsumer holds itself out to be objective, but manipulates postings on its site and uses those to attempt to extort money from the victims of these complaints, in violation of RICO. Regarding the alleged trademark infringement, Ascentive argued that PissedConsumer has used Ascentive's trademarks in the site's metadata, causing PissedConsumer sites to appear prominently in Internet search results. According to Ascentive, this creates "initial interest" confusion in violation of the Lanham Act. Ascentive additionally claimed that its trademarks were used in subdomain names and as prominent text on the PissedConsumer sites, which further leads to consumer confusion resulting in trademark infringement.

In its Opposition Memorandum, Opinion Corp. claimed that Ascentive's request for a preliminary injunction was essentially a request for prior restraint on speech that is protected by the First Amendment and therefore invalid. Opinion Corp. argued that its use of Ascentive trademarks constituted expression protected by the First Amendment. Finally, Opinion Corp. argued that the content posted on its sites should be protected under CDA 230. It contended that "sites such as fall squarely within the protection of the statute, which applies to all state law claims, however styled, so long as the act complained of is the publication of third party content."

After a hearing on Ascentive's Motion, and at the request of the presiding judge, Opinion Corp. submitted a bench brief discussing the application of fair use doctrine under the Lanham Act claim in this case. Opinion Corp. asserted that use of a trademark is protected when it is "fair[] and in good faith only to describe the goods and services of [the complaining] party." In this case, Opinion Corp. argued, PissedConsumer used the Ascentive marks in good faith as a means of cataloging sites, which constituted fair use.

Ascentive filed a reply letter arguing that a free speech defense is unavailable to sites creating confusion through a domain name. It also asserted that PissedConsumer is not protected by CDA 230, which provides no immunity for intellectual property claim or for content created by PissedConsumer, which include the self-created subdomains.

On December 13, 2011, in a rather lengthy opinion, the court rejected Ascentive's motion for preliminary injunction. The court ruled that there was no likelihood of confusion in PissedConsumer's use of Ascentive's trademarks, finding that "no reasonable visitor" to the various PissedConsumer sites would assume they are affiliated with Ascentive (or any other company), because the use of "pissed" in the domain name connotes criticism and negativity. Regarding use of the marks in metadata, the court found this did not create a likelihood of confusion, because PissedConsumer and Ascentive do not compete with each other, and because search engines generally do not use metadata to determine results. Finally, the court held that PissedConsumer is likely to fall within the protections of CDA 230 regarding the plaintiff's state law claims (unfair trade practices and consumer protection).

The court stated that this decision was without prejudice to Ascentive's opportunity to seek a permanent injunction after discovery has been completed.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Online Campaign Prompts Sallie Mae to Change Fee Policy for Loan Suspensions

I went to the Sallie Mae office in D.C. to deliver my petition in person. TV cameras were there, and I handed every signature to an exec who wouldn’t even look me in the eye.--Stef Gray

Online Campaign Prompts Sallie Mae to Change Fee Policy for Loan Suspensions
New York Times
February 2, 2012

Score two for online consumer advocates — or, as they might be called, Occupy Online.

On Thursday, three months after Bank of America backed down from imposing a $5 monthly debit card fee in response to an online petition that collected 300,000 signers, Sallie Mae, the nation’s largest private student-loan provider, changed its fee policy in response to an online petition.

For years, Sallie Mae had required unemployed people who could not afford their monthly payments to pay a $50-per-loan fee every three months to suspend their payments temporarily, even as interest charges mounted.

Sallie Mae called this forbearance fee a “good faith deposit” — but it was neither credited to the borrower’s account nor refunded.

Stef Gray, 23, a New Yorker who owes $600 a month on four loans, saw it as a predatory effort to squeeze blood from a generation of turnips — graduates already buried under a mountain of student debt. In November, she started a petition, “Tell Sallie Mae: Stop the Unemployment Penalty” with, a group based in San Francisco. “Sallie Mae is preying on people like me and cashing in on the fact that we need more time to find work before we can repay our student loans,” it said.

Ms. Gray, who has paid $300 to Sallie Mae in forbearance fees, had another $150 due for January. (Although she has four loans, she said, the top Sallie Mae fee is $150.) She did not pay the fee, and this week her loans became delinquent.

On Thursday morning, wearing a cap and gown and accompanied by Molly Katchpole, 22, the nanny who started the Bank of America petition, Ms. Gray visited the Washington offices of Sallie Mae to hold a news conference and deliver the petition, which had attracted 77,000 signatures.

Thursday afternoon, Sallie Mae blinked.

“We have been giving careful consideration to our policy for some time, and we are changing it to apply the good-faith payment to the customers’ balance after they resume a track record of on-time payments,” it said in a statement.

Patricia Christel, a Sallie Mae spokeswoman, said that about 4 percent of its private student loans are in forbearance. The new policy will be retroactive to forbearances started Jan. 1.

Ms. Gray was pleased, if cautious.

“It’s a partial victory,” she said. “They’re still charging a forbearance fee, which they don’t for federal loans. I’m glad they’re not pocketing the fee, but they’re still charging it. And I still can’t pay it.”

By comparison with Sallie Mae, she said, her credit-card companies seem pleasantly responsive.

“With Sallie Mae harassing me with collection calls while they’re tacking on $1,100 in interest every three months, and refusing to work with me, it’s ridiculous to say, but it’s made me hold up credit card companies as kind to consumers,” she said.

Ms. Gray, who held a job in school, said her $40,000 in loans have ballooned to more than $65,000. In a better economy, she said, her master’s degree in geography and expertise in geographic information systems would make her a good candidate for a job working with census or health statistics. But so far, she said, nothing has been forthcoming.

Back when she was borrowing, said Ms. Gray, whose parents died when she was young, no one explained the difference between federal and private loans.

“I was under the impression that Sallie Mae was a governmental agency, a nonprofit, with the same terms as federal loans,” she said.

But with federal loans, there is no forbearance fee, and sometimes there is even an opportunity to put off not just loan payments but interest accrual. Even better, with federal loans, she might have been eligible for income-based repayment, in which borrowers make up to 25 years of payments based on their income — payments of zero for those who are unemployed or earn very little — and have any remaining federal debt discharged.

“Private student loans have been so grossly under-regulated that this is just one of many issues that need to be addressed on a broader level,” said Lauren Asher, a founder of the Project on Student Debt. “Private loan borrowers are at the mercy of their lenders if they hit hard times.”...

Tell Sallie Mae: Stop the Unemployment Penalty

by Stef Gray

I’m Stef Gray. In December, I started a petition asking Sallie Mae to stop charging unemployment penalties -- extra fees to jobless people who pause their student loan repayment. (They’ve been charging me $150 every three months, while I’m struggling to buy groceries!)

Sallie Mae didn’t respond -- even after 77,000 people signed the petition.

So yesterday morning, I went to the Sallie Mae office in D.C. to deliver my petition in person. TV cameras were there, and I handed every signature to an exec who wouldn’t even look me in the eye.

Less than 3 hours later, Sallie Mae announced to the press they were changing their policy, and would start applying these fees towards borrowers’ loans instead of just pocketing the cash for extra profits.

I’m psyched that bringing the fight to Sallie Mae forced them to start paying attention, but this policy change isn’t nearly enough. Sallie Mae is still asking me (and unemployed and underemployed grads like me) to fork over money we just don’t have.

CETUSA Banned in Effort to Protect Foreign Students From Exploitation

I've been getting questions about whether CETUSA is banned from bringing in foreign students this summer under the State Department's work program. THE ANSWER IS YES. CETUSA IS BANNED FOR TWO YEARS. NO STUDENTS WILL BE BROUGHT IN BY CETUSA UNDER THE SUMMER WORK PROGRAM. See updates below.

However, I do not know if CETUSA has other programs that are still operating.


State Dept. Slaps Nonprofit for J-1 Violations
Nonprofit Quarterly
By Louis Altman

The U.S. State Department has clamped down on the nonprofit CETUSA, citing years of widespread abuse in its loosely-regulated cultural exchange visa programs. The recruiting agency has been banned from a popular J-1 visa program for two years.

Last year, CETUSA supplied 400 foreign “Summer Work Travel” (SWT) students to a Hershey Co. candy packaging plant (out of a total of 5,000 to 6,000 that CETUSA supplies via the SWT program—which is just one of the J-1 visa programs it engages in—annually). The students are officially supposed to have the opportunity to learn English and mingle with everyday Americans while working in safe, social jobs.

NYT Editorial: Closing the Student Sweatshop
New York Times editorial
February 2, 2012

The State Department took a modest step on Wednesday to cleaning up a major embarrassment. Its Summer Work Travel program for foreign university students was created decades ago to promote goodwill, education and cultural exchange but has since turned into a huge, poorly regulated and abuse-prone foreign guest-worker scheme. The department said it was barring one of the program’s largest sponsors, the Council for Educational Travel, USA, known as Cetusa, from bringing in any more workers, after it sent hundreds of young people to work in a Pennsylvania factory packing Hershey’s chocolates.

The students walked off the job in August to protest dangerous working conditions and low pay at a job they described as an elaborate bait and switch.

Each had paid $3,000 to $6,000 for the privilege of joining the J-1 visa program, which recruiters had billed as a rewarding summer: a taste of Willy Wonka plus the chance to see America. What the students got was endless hours packing and toting heavy boxes, risking injury for rock-bottom wages. There was no “cultural exchange,” unless you count immersion in the culture of an exploited, disposable work force. Once fees and jacked-up rents were deducted from their paychecks, the students netted between $1 and $3.50 an hour, far less than their American counterparts.

Which, as Professor Jennifer Gordon, a labor expert at Fordham Law School, recently noted in The Times, is the point. The summer program is the country’s largest guest-worker program because it is essentially unregulated and its workers are supercheap and lacking basic labor rights. Oversight is lax because the government relies on sponsors — which profit from the program — to do it.

The State Department is making an example of Cetusa, promising to tighten standards to keep sponsors in line and students out of dangerous industries like construction and roofing. The reforms need to go much further by explicitly protecting workers’ rights, including the right to organize, and giving oversight to the Labor Department.


Yet another misbehaving non-profit organization!

Company Banned in Effort to Protect Foreign Students From Exploitation
New York Times
February 1, 2012

Signaling a sharp change of course in the country’s largest international cultural exchange program, the State Department has banned a leading sponsor company from bringing foreign students to the United States for summer jobs and will add new restrictions to protect students from labor abuse, officials said Wednesday.

The removal of the sponsor, the Council for Educational Travel, USA, was intended to send a powerful message to dozens of private companies participating in the State Department’s summer work program that they will have to monitor foreign students far more closely and ensure that participants are not exploited as cheap workers by employers.

The council, which is known as Cetusa, has been one of the biggest sponsors in the summer program and was responsible for placing about 400 foreign students last summer in a Pennsylvania plant packing Hershey’s chocolates. In August, hundreds of those program participants staged a boisterous walkout from the plant to protest low pay and dangerous job conditions.

The students’ demonstrations set off an investigation of Cetusa by the State Department and accelerated a review of the entire summer program, ordered by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2010. Critics on many sides said the program had become a vast source of temporary foreign workers at a time of high joblessness for Americans and had lost some of its purpose as a source of positive cultural exposure to the United States for foreign university students.

Rick Ruth, acting deputy assistant secretary of state, said the department would issue new regulations in coming months to expand the list of occupations prohibited for foreign summer workers. The list will include most jobs in construction and roofing, he said, and others shown statistically to be the most hazardous.

“We want to make sure that sponsors are not putting the labor aspect in the primary position, when it should be the cultural aspect,” Mr. Ruth said in an interview Wednesday.

The department will tighten rules requiring sponsors to protect the health and safety of students and to prevent too many of them from working in the same place — a situation that could rob them of opportunities to interact with Americans. State Department officials said they were also considering a ban on most factory and industrial jobs for the students.

Over the past decade, about one million foreign university students came to the United States through the popular Summer Work Travel program.

Mr. Ruth said the department had decided to ban Cetusa, a measure that took effect on Monday, after the five-month investigation revealed a “scope and severity and pattern of noncompliance.” The lapses he cited echoed the complaints of the foreign students at the plant in Palmyra, Pa., who found themselves forced to work grueling night shifts lifting heavy boxes of Hershey’s candies for take-home pay so low they sometimes went hungry.

State Department officials found “an almost complete lack of cultural activities” for the students sent by Cetusa to the plant, and a “laxness” about their health and safety. The strains of the packing jobs and injuries that resulted were overlooked by the company, officials said.

Students’ complaints were routinely ignored and in some cases were met with “unacceptable threats and intimidation” that their visas could be canceled, officials said. The investigation also raised questions about whether the students had been overcharged by Cetusa for housing, the officials said.

Rick Anaya, the president of Cetusa, which is based in California, did not respond to requests for comment by telephone and e-mail.

Although a nonprofit, Cetusa, which sponsored more than 5,000 students last year, stands to lose at least $5 million in annual fees for the summer program. The company also created businesses providing health insurance to the students. State Department officials are reviewing Cetusa’s participation in three other academic exchanges. Under formal rules, the company could reapply after two years, but a return in that time appeared unlikely.

Several foreign students who worked at the packing plant, now back in their home countries, said they were excited to learn of the impact of their outcry...