Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sweetwater Union High School District reveals that some witnesses called to testify were given paid legal “support”

Taxpayers didn't just pay for the grand jury proceeding. They also paid for private law firms to advise the district and prepare employees for grand jury testimony.

Susan Luzzaro reports that in the year 2012-2013, Sweetwater Union High School District paid these amounts to its lawyers:

Winet, Patrick & Weaver $ 16,357
Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz $ 148,966
and Bradley Patton $ 1,575

Before the DA's investigation of Sweetwater school district...
Lawyers paid for with school funds
By Susan Luzzaro
San Diego Reader
March 20, 2013

In November 2012, the San Diego Grand Jury began investigating corruption allegations that encompassed three South Bay school districts: Southwestern College, the San Ysidro School District, and the Sweetwater Union High School District.

The investigation resulted in 232 criminal charges for elected officials and/or contractors in all three districts. The investigation supported the district attorney’s investigation into alleged pay-to-play corruption.

A recent public-records request to the Sweetwater Union High School District reveals that some witnesses called to testify were given paid legal “support.”

A letter included in the records request from the law corporation of Winet, Patrick & Weaver states, “When the District Attorney convened a Grand Jury, subpoenas were issued to a number of employees at the District who had no experience with the District Attorney’s office or Grand Jury proceedings. As is customary, these employees were informed that the Grand Jury proceedings were entirely confidential, employees could not discuss their prospective testimony with other individuals, and that the Grand Jury proceedings were private.”

A separate public-records request shared with the Reader reports that “The law firms that provided advice to District employees who requested legal advice regarding the grand jury proceedings included my firm [Winet, Patrick & Weaver], the firm of Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff and Holtz, and attorney Bradley Patton.”

Winet, Patrick & Weaver is the firm that provided $6336 to John McCann in his failed attempt at a permanent restraining order against Stewart Payne, a Sweetwater parent and one of the people who brought allegations of Sweetwater corruption to the district attorney.

[Maura Larkins' comment: Interestingly, the judge who granted a temporary restraining order that turned out at trial to be based on bad information was Francis Devaney, husband of Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz partner Leslie Devaney. Judge Ana Espana eventually determined that McCann's request lacked merit.]

Bradley Patton is a criminal-law attorney. Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz provide a variety of legal services to the district.

In the year 2012-2013, Sweetwater paid Winet, Patrick & Weaver $16,357, Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz $148,966, and Bradley Patton $1575.

The district declined to say which employees requested legal assistance because “disclosure of these documents or records would not only usurp the privacy required by Grand Jury proceedings, but also may constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy of the individual employee.”

However, the 61 names of witnesses called by the grand jury was filed with the superior court on December 21 and is part of the public record. Superintendent Ed Brand and trustee John McCann were among those called from the Sweetwater district.

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