Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Teens claim they were used as fake rehab clients

Incompetence, negligence and fraud seem to rule the institutions that are supposed to care for our children.

"Everyone talked the talk, everyone was zero tolerance for fraud and abuse, but nobody would do anything about it," said Joy Jarfors, a manager with the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs until 2010.

Karen Kane said her agency was especially concerned that a false addiction diagnosis could negatively affect the foster children later in life.


"Ejindu was authoritarian and intimidating, said Shearer, who worked for him for six years. Inexperienced counselors making $9 an hour were under constant stress, she said, caught between doing something unethical and losing their jobs if they refused."

Ejindu, who tax records show makes $150,000 a year running the clinic, branched out last year to provide addiction counseling at seven middle and high schools in the Pomona Unified School District...A school district spokesman, Ryan Hightower, said there have been complaints about the program but would not elaborate except to say, "Whenever something is brought up, we deal with it."

"When he had the schools in on it, I left because I couldn't do that much forging," Brantley said. THE "DISGRUNTLED EX-EMPLOYEE MADE IT UP" DEFENSE

Ejindu fought back. He filed a complaint against the county auditor, citing "illegal pilfering of documents." The allegations against his clinic, Ejindu wrote, came from disgruntled ex-employees who had been fired for not meeting standards.

"This agency has been around for 15 years for a very good reason," he wrote. "We are a pillar in our community and well respected."

Teens claim they were used as fake rehab clients (with videos)
Center for Investigative Reporting
By Will Evans and Christina Jewett, Special to CNN
July 30, 2013

Fraud is rampant in California's drug rehabilitation program for the poor, with clinics cheating taxpayers by billing for counseling that never happened

Clinic operators are accused of pressuring staff to forge and falsify paperwork to pad bills

California's Medicaid system, the biggest in the nation, paid $94 million in the past two fiscal years -- half of public rehab funding -- to clinics that have shown signs of fraud or deceptive billing

Editor's note: To uncover this story on widespread fraud linked to California's drug rehab program, CNN's Special Investigations Unit has teamed up with the independent, nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. Join CNN's Anderson Cooper on AC360 for more on this yearlong investigation Tuesday and Wednesday at 8 and 10 p.m. ET on CNN.

(CNN) -- Victoria Byers did not drink alcohol. She did not abuse drugs. But when she was a teenager in foster care, several times a month, she would board a van at her group home and go to rehab.

Byers couldn't figure out why she had to take drug tests and sit in group therapy sessions on addiction at So Cal Health Services, a clinic tucked in an office park in Riverside, California.

"And I told them, you know, 'Why should I be here? I have no drug issue,' " said Byers, now a slow-to-smile 22-year-old.

The director of Byers' group home confirmed Byers was clean but said she sent all six girls under her care to the clinic because she didn't have enough staff to separate those with substance abuse problems.

The arrangement was strange. It was also a scam.

So Cal Health Services was ripping off taxpayers, part of a pattern of fraud by rehabilitation clinics that collect government funding to help the poor and addicted, a yearlong investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting and CNN has found. The investigation, which included undercover surveillance and stakeouts, uncovered a rehab racket that continues to this day.

Thousands of pages of government records and dozens of interviews with counselors, patients and regulators reveal a widespread scheme to bilk the state's Medicaid system, the nation's largest. Witnesses to the fraud laid out its inner workings in minute detail, some speaking of it publicly for the first time.

In the underbelly of the Drug Medi-Cal program, clinics pad client rolls by diagnosing people like Byers with addictions they don't have. They round up mentally ill residents from board-and-care homes to sit in therapy sessions they can't follow. They lure patients in from the street by handing out cash, cigarettes and snacks. They have patients sign in for days they aren't there.

One Inglewood clinic fabricated notes and billed for "ghost clients" who never came in. They couldn't show up, a counselor discovered: Some were behind bars; one was dead.

Even caught red-handed, operators have polished techniques to ward off official scrutiny and keep the money flowing. One Los Angeles County clinic director lodged a complaint against a government auditor, and another called on a local lawmaker for help. In both cases, it worked.

The populous Los Angeles region is one of the nation's top hot spots for health care fraud, and former state officials agree it is also ground zero for the rehab racket.

Drug Medi-Cal paid out $94 million in the past two fiscal years to 56 clinics in Southern California that have shown signs of deception or questionable billing practices, representing half of all public funding to the program, CIR and CNN found. Over the past six years, more than half a billion dollars have poured into the program statewide.

Following a year of public records requests and questions from CIR and CNN, state regulators announced a crackdown in mid-July. The action came two and a half weeks after reporters submitted a final list of their findings.

The state Department of Health Care Services temporarily suspended 16 clinics suspected of flouting the law and pledged to tighten oversight and on Tuesday announced it had suspended 13 more. Officials would not identify the targeted clinics, saying the information would compromise the investigation.

But veteran operators have become adept at sidestepping trouble.

Among them was Tim Ejindu, who ran the clinic where Byers was sent.

Nearly one-third of the foster children who showed up at Ejindu's clinics in Riverside and Pomona had no drug or alcohol problem, estimated TaMara Shearer, a former addict who worked as a supervisor.

"Any loopholes, he knows how to find them. I've watched him do it," Shearer said. "He thinks Americans are dumb."

Under pressure to diagnose teenagers with fake addictions, counselors at the clinics reverted to racial stereotypes, according to Shearer. They labeled white teens as alcohol drinkers and black or Latino teens as marijuana smokers, she said.

TaMara Shearer, who worked at So Cal Health Services and the Pomona Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center, says the clinics billed for services that didn't happen and diagnosed teenagers with fake addictions.

Ejindu did not respond to an interview request or a letter outlining allegations against him. When contacted by reporters at his clinic, he declined to answer questions, closing the clinic door and refusing to reopen it.

Joy Jarfors, a manager with the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs until she retired in 2010, said "fraud and abuse (are) rampant" in the system.

"I'm not the employee anymore that has to look at this every day, but I'm a taxpayer that knows that this is going on," Jarfors said. "It angers me. And there's story after story after story about Medicaid dollars being cut from people who need the services."

The cost of failing to treat addicts is high. Drug overdose and excessive alcohol consumption are among the top causes of premature death in Los Angeles County, killing two people nearly every day. Statewide, the Legislative Analyst's Office has found taxpayers spend more than $1 billion a year on hospital stays related to substance abuse for those on Medi-Cal.

"Everyone talked the talk, everyone was zero tolerance for fraud and abuse, but nobody would do anything about it," said Joy Jarfors, a manager with the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs until 2010.

The rehab centers promise a chance to start over in their very names, which include phrases like "new hope," "new beginning," "renew" and "U-turn." But they don't always deliver.

Vredette Hawkins was one woman who could have used some help. The South Los Angeles mother of four smoked marijuana and was under scrutiny from child welfare officials, she said, after someone accused her of using methamphetamine.

She went to a nearby Drug Medi-Cal clinic a year ago to get counseling for depression. She encountered a chaotic free-for-all, a clinic filled with people who came only because they wanted money.

At Basen Inc., clients received $5 each time they showed up, she said. Hawkins said counselors often abandoned group therapy sessions after 15 minutes, leaving clients to chat about sexual exploits and getting high. Two former Basen employees also told CIR that the clinic paid clients, although one said that the practice stopped amid worries about getting caught.

A county investigation last year found "extremely serious violations," such as falsified paperwork, but couldn't substantiate allegations that Basen was paying clients.

"The only one that's basically benefiting from all this," Hawkins said, "is ... the person that's running the program."

Bassey Enun-Abara, the counseling center's executive director, said he does not pay clients and disputed Hawkins' description of the clinic. "I can't believe a client would tell you that," he said.

As director of the state Department of Health Care Services, Toby Douglas has primary responsibility for Medi-Cal, including the rehab system. Douglas, appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011, declined repeated interview requests.

Douglas' boss, Secretary Diana Dooley of California's Health and Human Services Agency, also declined interview requests. Approached by CNN in June outside a public meeting in Sacramento, Dooley headed for a restroom, which was locked.

She then said: "The state of California takes fraud very seriously, and there are many investigations that are underway. The allegations -- all allegations are given full and fair consideration."

Dooley added that her agency's fraud and investigation unit is "one of the best in the country." She ended the brief conversation with, "That's all I have to say."

Asked again whether Douglas would sit down for an interview, as she stepped into an elevator, Dooley put her hand over CNN's camera and called for security. Later, her spokesman offered a sit-down interview with Douglas if CNN discarded the footage of Dooley. CNN and CIR would not agree to that condition.

A month later, Douglas announced his crackdown.

The agency's chief deputy director, Karen Johnson, declined to discuss accusations about specific clinics and acknowledged that the state does not yet "know the expanse of the problem."

Related: Rehab racket includes frauds, felons and fakes

Unreachable clients

Addiction counselor Tamara Askew discovered something wrong soon after she started working at Pride Health Services in Inglewood, southwest of downtown L.A., in 2009.

Askew grabbed a stack of files and began contacting patients to introduce herself. That was harder than she had figured.

Some were in jail, Askew said. Several never showed up. One man she reached out to was dead.

"After that, it was like, 'Are you kidding me?' " Askew said in an interview. "God rest his soul but, I'm like, 'How are you billing (for him)?' "

When it came time to bill Drug Medi-Cal for services rendered, Askew said her boss, Godfrey Nwogene, wanted her to submit paperwork showing that all of those clients, living and dead, had been attending counseling sessions.

The more clients Pride Health Services reported treating, the more money it could charge the government.

"He basically said, 'How do you think you're going to get paid?' " Askew said.

When Askew would not sign off on billing for clients she hadn't seen, her boss unplugged her computer, she said, and told her to leave.

Askew sued Pride, claiming she was fired for refusing to falsify records.
Pride Health Services contended in court filings that Askew was laid off because there wasn't enough work. Askew and Pride eventually settled, and a judge ordered the clinic to pay her $15,500.

The clinic kept reaping more than $800,000 annually in government funding, despite persistent allegations of fraud and serious violations documented by auditors.

This year, a whistle-blower told Los Angeles County officials that Nwogene still was billing for "ghost clients." When confronted by county regulators, Nwogene and his staff denied wrongdoing.

Without hard evidence, auditors couldn't substantiate the allegations. They might have had more luck if they had visited Pride on a Wednesday.

Inside Pride's Inglewood clinic, between a dairy mart and a gas station on busy Crenshaw Boulevard, a small lobby was empty April 3, save for artificial plants and a 1990s-era anti-alcohol poster.

A receptionist told reporters there were no counseling sessions that day.

The office offered no group therapy on Wednesdays, she specified, in an exchange caught on a video camera hidden in a watch.

Yet billing records obtained by CIR and CNN show that Pride Health Services charged taxpayers for counseling 60 people at the clinic that day, at a cost of about $1,600. The clinic was reimbursed for 62 patients the following Wednesday as well.

Nwogene, whose salary has reached as high as $120,000 a year, did not respond to requests for an interview or to a letter seeking responses to specific allegations. When reporters asked for him at Pride's Inglewood clinic, a staffer denied wrongdoing. Workers then called police and closed the office mid-day.

Fake diagnoses among foster children

In California's public drug rehab program, clients equal cash. State and federal taxpayer money flows to the local privately run clinics based on the number of people they serve. The counseling is free to those on Medi-Cal.

California spent nearly $186 million on the program in the past two fiscal years, according to figures from the Department of Health Care Services. That doesn't include methadone clinics for heroin addicts, a separate wing of Drug Medi-Cal.

The state has the nation's largest population of people who qualify for the benefit, a pool poised to grow sharply under the Affordable Care Act. But recent history suggests that expansion might shovel more funding to clinics that game the system.

A specialty of So Cal Health Services, the Riverside clinic to which Victoria Byers was sent, was diagnosing foster children with fabricated drug and alcohol problems and billing taxpayers for the unneeded services, according to former employees and whistle-blower complaints.

The clinic billed Riverside County between $31 and $75 for each counseling session a child attended, documents show.

"You'd have to make up a summary of them trying this drug and make up scenarios of how they tried it, how they got it," said Nadine Cornelius, a former counselor. "It was all lies."

Cornelius tried making her group therapy sessions educational, she said during an interview at a diner near her San Bernardino County home. But eventually, she gave up. Instead, she said she let the teenagers play bingo and watch movies.

An anonymous whistle-blower told county officials that So Cal was paying group homes for "access" to the foster children. Byers' group home director, Angelina Farmer, told CIR that wasn't the case.

Riverside County cut So Cal Health Services' contract in 2010 because so many of its clients had dropped out. That failure was easier to prove than the fake diagnoses of teenagers, according to Karen Kane, the county's substance abuse program administrator.

Kane said her agency was especially concerned that a false addiction diagnosis could negatively affect the foster children later in life.

"Our goal was to stop them from harming people and get them out of the business -- and that's what we did," Kane said.

By then, the county already had paid So Cal $1 million, dating back to mid-2007.

After the closure, clinic director Tim Ejindu moved some staff members from Riverside to his other clinic in eastern Los Angeles County. There, under the red-tiled roof of the Pomona Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center, problems persisted.

Shearer, the Pomona center's assistant program manager before she left last year, said the overriding goal of the operation was to "get money." Staff billed for therapy that didn't happen, she said. They billed for clients who didn't show up. They billed for pizza parties and basketball games as if they were counseling sessions.

Ejindu was authoritarian and intimidating, said Shearer, who worked for him for six years. Inexperienced counselors making $9 an hour were under constant stress, she said, caught between doing something unethical and losing their jobs if they refused.

"And he made it very clear that your job depended on what you do and what you don't do," Shearer said.

When a government auditor showed up for an annual review, she said Ejindu would have his staff sneak files into his office so he could examine them. Then, Shearer said, he would send the files back to the counselor to change before the auditor saw them.

"Mind you, there's no way to ... go back and correct," she said. "There's only forgery."

Ejindu, who tax records show makes $150,000 a year running the clinic, branched out last year to provide addiction counseling at seven middle and high schools in the Pomona Unified School District.

Tim Ejindu, who runs the Pomona Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center, called his clinic a "pillar in our community."

A school district spokesman, Ryan Hightower, said there have been complaints about the program but would not elaborate except to say, "Whenever something is brought up, we deal with it."

Fighting audits

As business boomed at the Pomona clinic, Mary Brantley couldn't keep up.

Brantley started as a counselor at Ejindu's Riverside clinic. After it closed, she moved on to the Pomona clinic. She said under Ejindu's watch, she was expected to produce paperwork and signatures for rehab counseling that never took place.

"When he had the schools in on it, I left because I couldn't do that much forging," Brantley said.

Ejindu's strategies for handling regulators became clear after Shearer took her story to county authorities in September.

As an auditor investigated Shearer's accusations of fraud, Ejindu offered the investigator a job, according to a county email. The auditor turned him down.

The 2012 investigation determined that the Pomona clinic had billed for 230 counseling sessions at times when the counselors were off work or at lunch. The inspector discovered that Ejindu himself had filled out, signed and dated patient records for a future date.

Six treatment plans and medical waivers lacked the required doctor's signature when the auditor first examined them. Weeks later, physician signatures appeared on the same documents, along with dates indicating they had been signed before the audit, according to the investigation report.

The tricks used to fudge paperwork had become so prevalent in the Drug Medi-Cal program that John Viernes Jr., Los Angeles County's Substance Abuse Prevention and Control director, warned all rehab providers in a 2010 memo that the practices were fraudulent and "will result in immediate contract termination." Viernes also warned that any offer of a bribe to a county staffer would be grounds for termination.

Over and over again, however, that threat fizzled.

Ejindu fought back. He filed a complaint against the county auditor, citing "illegal pilfering of documents." The allegations against his clinic, Ejindu wrote, came from disgruntled ex-employees who had been fired for not meeting standards.

"This agency has been around for 15 years for a very good reason," he wrote. "We are a pillar in our community and well respected."

Ejindu met with Viernes, who asked another county division to investigate the complaint of auditor misconduct. The inquiry determined that the auditor didn't have permission to take papers off the desks of clinic staff, Viernes said. As a result, he said, the findings of serious violations were "set aside."

Meanwhile, the Pomona clinic continued to rake in cash as part of its $800,000 annual contract. Vans still dropped off teenagers for rehab, and Shearer has grown cynical about the value of blowing the whistle.

"The funny thing is that it has been reported, many times, and nothing has ever been done," she said. "He's always found a way to circumvent that."

Looking back, Victoria Byers is upset, too. It bothers her that somewhere in official patient records, someone labeled her with an addiction she didn't have.

"Maybe if I wanted to get a job and that comes up, maybe I can't get that job because of drugs," she said. "I didn't do drugs, and that's kind of messed up."

'Ghost clients'

At Pride Health Services, addictions weren't the only things that Stephanie Jackson Parnell made up.

The former employee said the clinic operator, Godfrey Nwogene, would ask her to bill Drug Medi-Cal for clients she'd never seen.

"I just had to come up with stories," she said. "Using your imagination. Like as if it's someone standing right there."

Pride staffers would go through files of old clients to check whether their Medi-Cal numbers remained active, Parnell said. Each active number would become a Pride client again.

Parnell, who left and filed a whistle-blower complaint with the state in 2009, said she invented life stories for her fake clients. She still can rattle off vignettes of rehab fiction: "Client stated that she went to a party and relapsed. ... Client is saying she doesn't want to go out with those same friends."

Or sometimes, Parnell just copied and pasted notes from one file to another.

"It got so raggedy ... I would put one floppy disk in there and do 15 charts with everybody saying the same thing," she recalled.

When people did come in, Parnell would take down their information, and Pride would bill for them even if they never came back, she said. When the fake clients were due to complete their rehab program, Pride employees created diplomas to put in their files, she said.

"I was getting freaked out about it, but the money was good," said Parnell, who made $13 an hour.

Whistle-blower emails sent to a Los Angeles County auditor in 2011 accuse Nwogene of leaning hard on his workers to carry out the scheme.

"I refuse to do any ghost writing because that is illegal," one of the emails said. "The owner of Pride Health (Godfrey) had an emergency meeting last week and stated that if we didn't want to do the paper work the Pride Health way, then we should resign."

Nwogene seemed unstoppable. A Pride employee wrote in another email to an investigator, "One thing im (sic) kinda scared of is that he has told us that no one has been able and will never be able to take him down."

Nwogene's skill at avoiding a crackdown played out in full force in 2011, as he faced heat from both state and county authorities.

An auditor sat in on a group therapy session -- but no one showed up. The auditor reported that Pride "appear(s) to have developed fraudulent documentation to support their billing claims," according to a county memo.

"A serious problem has come up with this agency," one county regulator wrote in an email obtained under the California Public Records Act. "ALL ROSTERS SIGNED IN THE SAME HANDWRITING by, it appears ... the same person and all billing for this program will be disallowed."

The county froze funding and conducted a follow-up investigation that found "extremely grave violations" and "deficiencies that warrant the termination" of Pride's contract. Los Angeles County drafted letters notifying state officials and Nwogene that it was cutting off funding.

The state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs drafted a letter to temporarily suspend Pride from the Drug Medi-Cal program because of "severe deficiencies" from 2005 to 2011.

Neither of the letters, according to county and state representatives, ever was sent.

Political intervention

Nwogene had been asking for help from the office of Mark Ridley-Thomas, one of five county supervisors. Now chairman of the county board, the former state senator represents the district where Pride operates.

The politician's aide, Salya Mohamedy, inquired, and Viernes, the county substance abuse prevention director, detailed the clinic's violations and allegations of fraud. Still, Mohamedy asked Viernes to set up a meeting "so that we can resolve this matter once and for all."

Internal emails show that this was not an unusual request: During the second half of 2011, Ridley-Thomas' aide contacted Viernes on behalf of half a dozen other rehab providers facing problems with regulators.

Nwogene met with Viernes on August 10, 2011. In a thank-you letter to Ridley-Thomas' aide, Nwogene called the meeting successful.

"Your intervention opened the door to dialogue," Nwogene wrote. "That dialogue led to a resolution."

While Pride may have had flaws, Nwogene wrote, "reckless and mean spirited" county staff treated the organization unfairly.

In the end, Pride Health Services' contract wouldn't be terminated. The funding spigot was on again.

In an interview, Viernes expressed frustration that supervisors urged him to meet with clinic owners even when they knew about the serious problems found by auditors.

"I get emails from the supervisors, (saying), 'When are these people gonna get paid!'" Viernes said.

Ridley-Thomas' top health deputy, Yolanda Vera, denied pressuring Viernes. The lawmaker's office got involved, she said, to "make sure that these agencies at least are getting some access and having their concerns addressed."

Asked about the CIR/CNN findings regarding Pride's billing, Vera expressed concern. "If true," she said, "I would ask the question as to why are we contracting with this agency."

But Viernes said the message is pretty clear: Help the clinics improve instead of cutting them off.

"There's so much political pressure on us about giving them a second chance," he added. "After all, we're a rehab agency, we believe in giving second chances."

And, as CIR and CNN found, government regulators will dole out second and third chances to just about anyone.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

With ‘Parent Trigger’ Laws on the Ropes, Three Overhauled Schools Reopen in Southern California

With ‘Parent Trigger’ Laws on the Ropes, Three Overhauled Schools Reopen in Los Angeles
Controversial legislation that allows parents to vote in new management at public schools is faltering everywhere but Southern California, where the law is getting its first real test
By Natasha Lindstrom
The Hechinger Report
July 26, 2013

LOS ANGELES—When classes resume in Southern California in the coming weeks, three public schools will be the first in the nation to reopen under new management spurred by a controversial education law dubbed the “parent trigger.”

Parent Esmeralda Chacon is excited that 24th Street Elementary, just west of downtown Los Angeles, is bringing back a pre-kindergarten program and partnering with a local charter school operator.

Parent Llury Garcia at Weigand Elementary in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles—where the principal has been ousted and 21 teachers subsequently asked for transfers—hopes her 8-year-old daughter will become a better reader.

And Cynthia Ramirez expects to have more say in setting discipline policy and curriculum at her fourth-grade son’s school, Desert Trails Preparatory Academy in the desert town of Adelanto, now that it has been taken over by a small nonprofit charter operator.

These parents helped lead the so-called “parent unions” that ran campaigns to overhaul their children’s respective schools with guidance and financial backing from Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles nonprofit formed to promote California’s Parent Empowerment Act. Known as the parent trigger law, the legislation allows a majority of parents at an underperforming school to force major changes ranging from replacing the principal and half the staff to ceding control to a charter operator.

When the law was passed in 2010, Former California State Sen. Gloria Romero, its author, compared it to the civil rights movement five decades before, and envisioned bipartisan support for parent trigger laws spreading to state legislatures across the nation. The 2012 Hollywood movie “Won’t Back Down” aimed to build legislative momentum, but the box office flop only seemed to draw more critics. Three and a half years later, Romero’s grand vision seems remote as opposition grows to any bill that even resembles a parent trigger. No group has succeeded in invoking a parent trigger law—or even made a full-fledged attempt—outside of southern California.

Only seven states have a parent trigger law on the books, with some versions weaker than others. In 20 states, bills to create or expand such laws stalled or died in legislatures this past spring; only one became law. Teachers unions, school administrators and even some parent advocacy groups have been fighting what they see as a corporate takeover of public schools under the guise of parent power, pointing to Parent Revolution’s financial backers, which include the Bill & Melinda Gates, Broad, Walton Family and Wasserman foundations. (Some of these foundations are among past and present supporters of The Hechinger Report, which produced this story.) Critics fear that parent triggers will transform the school system into an assembly line of identically run schools that focus on test scores at the expense of teacher autonomy in the classroom.

“The terms ‘parent trigger’ and Parent Revolution have just become so toxic,” said Gwen Samuel, founder of the Connecticut Parents Union, which helped pass a milder form of parent trigger in her state. “Anyone who mentions it, my gosh, people just come at them. And it’s not fair to the parent who just wants a good school.”

The laws have become part of a broader debate over the proliferation of charter schools, private school vouchers and everything else now dubbed “education reform,” a vague term used by self-identified reformers to describe nearly any attempt to challenge the traditional public school system.

“I don’t know if we’re so much caught up in the parent trigger battle going off or more caught up in an even larger battle between the education establishment and education reformers, and this is just another battleground in that war,” said Oklahoma State Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, whose parent trigger billcleared the State Senate in March but never made it to a vote in the House. “It had been branded so significantly, it was no longer about the bill,” said Florida State Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, who failed to advance her parent trigger legislation in late April. Even after an amendment gave local school boards greater veto power, the bill died on a tie vote in the State Senate for the second straight year.

It hasn’t helped that the first few attempts at invoking a parent trigger led to fierce hostility and feuding within schools, with parents turning on one another and accusations of harassment, intimidation and fraud flying on both sides...

Undeterred by the bills that stalled or died in 2013, Parent Revolution spokesman Derrick Everett said that “laws as novel as the parent trigger process have often taken multiple legislative sessions to both get the law ‘right’ and get it passed.” With its nearly $5.5 million budget and some 45 staffers, Parent Revolution has helped create 13 parent union chapters in the greater Los Angeles area, according to Everett. But only three have invoked the trigger. A fourth parent union, at Haddon Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles, voted to pause its trigger push and instead compromise with the district for less drastic reforms.

Supporters and opponents alike will be watching closely how these schools perform in the coming years.

(MORE: Can Computers Replace Teachers?)

Samuel, in Connecticut, urges parents to avoid political drama and choose for themselves the types of changes they want for their schools. “Parents have got to say, ‘We’re not going to get caught in the fray,’” Samuel said. “You have to make it work instead of letting politics run the show.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet based at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Read more: http://nation.time.com/2013/07/26/with-parent-trigger-laws-on-the-ropes-three-overhauled-schools-reopen-in-los-angeles/#ixzz2aI7fLNdq

The more education people have, the better they are able to stand up to authority

Five white women, including the wives of a lawyer and an engineer, convinced juror "Maddy" that she had to find Zimmerman innocent even though "Maddy" believed he was guilty of murder.

Why was Maddy unable to stand up to these women? Education is a likely reason. It has been proven that higher education enables people to stand up to those who misuse the authority that they are perceived to have.

See Milgram’s Experiment on Obedience to Authority

Stanley Milgram's famous "obedience" experiment showed that most people will set aside their moral inhibitions if someone wearing a white laboratory coat tells them to inflict horrible pain on a stranger.

Milgram found that education levels had a big impact on behavior.

Milgram found that people who have confidence in their own thinking ability are less likely to obey someone just because he is in a position of authority.

Juror B29, ‘Maddy,’ says ‘Zimmerman got away with murder’
Video: A member of the jury that acquitted George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin told ABC News that Zimmerman got away with murder.
By Ruth Tam
Washington Post
July 25, 2013

Two weeks after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin, the only person on the jury who is a member of an ethnic minority said in an ABC News interview that Zimmerman “got away with murder.’

Juror B29, identified only by her first name Maddy, sat down with ABC’s Robin Roberts, to discuss the trial for “Good Morning America.” As the first juror to show her face on camera, Maddy expressed both conviction and regret.

‘Justice for Trayvon’ rallies across the U.S.: Protesters chant and march, calling for a federal investigation and changes to “stand your ground” statutes after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida.

“You can’t put the man in jail even though in our hearts we felt he was guilty,” Maddy said of Zimmerman.

[Maura Larkins: Actually, yes you can. It's called manslaughter. He followed Trayvon, sneaking up on him with a hidden gun, and ended up shooting Trayvon dead. Zimmerman was intentionally aggressive toward Trayvon, precipitating a shooting. Zimmerman had no right to be stalking Trayvon. He disobeyed police and caused a death.]

A nursing assistant and mother of eight children, Maddy, 36, who is Puerto Rican, said she believed she owed Trayvon Martin’s parents an apology because she felt “like I let them down.”

She also said that the case shouldn’t have gone to trial and that it was “a publicity stunt.” Despite this, she said the decision weighed heavily on her.

“It’s hard for me to sleep; it’s hard for me to eat because I feel I was forcefully included in Trayvon Martin’s death. And as I carry him on my back, I’m hurting as much [as] Trayvon’s Martin’s mother because there’s no way that any mother should feel that pain,” she said.

In the interview with Roberts, Maddy also discussed the different options the jury was presented and how she “fought to the end.”

“I was the juror that was going to give them the hung jury,” she said.

In response to Maddy’s interview, Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, released a statement Thursday night.

“It is devastating for my family to hear the comments from juror B29, comments which we already knew in our hearts to be true. That George Zimmerman literally got away with murder.”

Excerpts of the interview aired on ABC’s “World News with Diane Sawyer” and on “Nightline” Thursday night. The full interview aired Friday morning on “Good Morning America.”

The 6 Decisions That Could Have Saved Trayvon Martin's Life
By Ryan Grim
Huff Post

It's impossible to know whether it was Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman who threw the first punch in the confrontation that ended Martin’s life. The jury apparently relied on that ambiguity to acquit Zimmerman of murdering Martin, because he said he killed the 17-year-old in self defense. But despite the confusion, there are plenty of facts that both sides can agree on. While Zimmerman may have been found not guilty, that doesn't mean he wasn't responsible. Trayvon Martin would be alive today, but for at least six decisions made or not made by Zimmerman and the state of Florida.

1. Zimmerman could have decided not to follow Martin.

For starters, George Zimmerman is not a law enforcement official trained in spotting suspicious or criminal behavior. Zimmerman told a 911 operator that Martin seemed suspicious and appeared to be "on drugs or something. It's raining and he’s just walking around, looking about." It was not 3 a.m. when Zimmerman spotted Martin. Rather, it was early evening, a time when people typically "walk around, looking about." Had Zimmerman simply gone about his business, we never would have heard about either of them.

2. Zimmerman could have listened to the 911 operator and not followed Martin. Talking to an operator, Zimmerman complained, "These assholes, they always get away." He later narrated, "Shit, he's running.”

"Are you following him?" the operator asked.

Zimmerman confirmed he was. "Ok, we don't need you to do that," the operator told him. If Zimmerman had simply let Martin run away, he'd be alive today. Martin, it later emerged, found Zimmerman as deeply suspicious as Zimmerman found him. Only one of those judgments turned out to be correct.

3. If Zimmerman had not been secretly armed, he probably wouldn't have followed Martin. Zimmerman knew that he had an advantage in any possible confrontation with a neighbor: He was concealing a weapon. If a fight started, and Zimmerman began losing, he could pull out the gun and shoot his opponent. The state of Florida allows Zimmerman to patrol his neighborhood armed, which emboldened him.

4. If Zimmerman's weapon had not been hidden, Martin probably would have dealt with him differently. When a man follows another, tensions rise. One way or another, those tensions led to a physical confrontation. But if Florida law barred concealed carry, Martin would have been able to see that Zimmerman was armed. Zimmerman defenders suspect Martin threw the first punch. But even if that's true, would he have done so if he knew Zimmerman was carrying a loaded weapon?

5. Zimmerman could have been barred from carrying a weapon.

Zimmerman had a long history of violence, including a restraining order for domestic violence, felony charges of resisting arrest, and assaulting an officer (the charge was pled down to a misdemeanor and then closed; Zimmerman's dad was a magistrate at the time). He was bounced from a job as a bouncer for being too aggressive with patrons, the New York Daily News reported. And a family member accused him of a pattern of sexual molestation. He wasn't convicted of any felony charges, which could have barred him from a gun license, but in some societies, people would determine that such a history makes someone less than an ideal candidate for the right to carry around a hidden loaded weapon.

6. Zimmerman could have not shot and killed Martin.

Regardless of who threw the first punch, a series of aggressive decisions by Zimmerman led toward the fight that broke out. Zimmerman therefore bears some responsibility for the altercation. If one starts a fight and loses, the result is generally a bloody nose, a fat lip, a black eye, a concussion or even a broken bone. That's the price one pays for getting into a fight, and it tends to be a deterrent to starting a fight. Zimmerman could have chosen to take his lumps and rethink the decisions he had made that landed him where he was. Instead, he pulled out his gun, squeezed the trigger and killed Trayvon Martin.

Of course, there's a seventh decision that could have been made that night -- Trayvon Martin could have chosen to not defend himself.

It's important to note that the jury's verdict sends a message to anyone confronted or pursued by another man: If you engage the confrontation, even an act of self defense could be used as justification to shoot and kill you. What led up to the confrontation in the Martin-Zimmerman case was ruled irrelevant; only Zimmerman's state of mind at the time he shot him was to be taken into account by the jury. That doesn't leave someone being followed through their neighborhood many options other than fighting back.

Friday, July 26, 2013

In 2013, North Pole is once again a lake

North Pole, July 2013

Ice - Surface melting revealed by the North Pole Environmental Observatory

Since 2002, the multi-agency USA-Japan joint project entitled "North Pole Environmental Observatory" (NPEO) has deployed Web Cameras along with instruments that monitor air, ice and ocean conditions. The cameras and instrumentation are deployed in Spring on an ice floe drifting southward from the North Pole (drift maps are shown below). The Web Cams provide an otherwise unobtainable view of sea ice conditions throughout the Arctic summer. Animations of the images are available as YouTube videos.

In 2012, on August 26, the Arctic sea ice extent reached the lowest value observed during the satellite record. Following that low, Arctic sea ice extent continued to drop, falling below 4 million square kilometers by September 5. Compared to September conditions in the 1980's and 1990's, this represents a 45% reduction in the area of the Arctic Ocean covered by sea ice. (Reference: National Snow and Ice Data Center)...

July 15, 2004 The North Pole

Summer Heat Unravels Arctic’s Icy Blanket
August 22, 2011

The blanket of ice coating Earth’s northernmost seas was thin and ragged in July, setting a record low for sea ice extent for the month. Sea ice stretched across only 3.06 million square miles; the long-term July average is 3.9 million...

Was San Ysidro School District smart to destroy documents?

Destroying evidence seems to be a successful ploy. It certainly worked for Halliburton (see story below).

What should SYSD's lawyers, Gil Abed and Dan Shinoff, do? Resign on principle?

Halliburton shares up despite destroying evidence
Adam Shell
July 26, 2013

Halliburton shares rise despite guilty plea related to destroying evidence in 2010 oil spill in Gulf of Mexico.
Oil services firm will plead guilty to a criminal charge in Gulf oil spill disaster

Investors focus instead on $3.3 billion stock buyback announced last night
Shares of oil services firm are up about 30% this year

NEW YORK — Wall Street is shrugging off news that oil services firm Halliburton has admitted to destroying evidence related to the environmentally damaging 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, pushing shares up more than 3.7%.

After the market close Thursday, Halliburton said it will plead guilty to the criminal charged filed by the Justice Department and pay a fine of $200,000. It also made a voluntary contribution of $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Investors opted instead to focus on the oil services firm's announcement yesterday that it is planning on buying back $3.3 billion of its shares, as well as the company's quarterly earnings beat announced Monday.

CRIMINAL CHARGES: Halliburton admits destroying Gulf oil spill evidence

The stock was up 27.8% for the year heading into today's trading session, which tops the 18.5% gain for the broader market represented by the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index.

The oil rig blowout three summers ago in the Gulf of Mexico not only caused massive environmental damage, but also hurt the local economies of numerous states along the Gulf Coast, which rely on tourism and fishing profits. The explosion at the oil rig killed 11 workers and polluted hundreds of miles of coastline.

Halliburton was a contractor involved in the drilling of the faulty BP well, which was operated by Transocean.
v Halliburton rose $3.70 to $45.98.

Transocean shares dropped 80 cents, or 1.7%, to $47.69. BP's stock fell 11 cents, or 0.3%, to $43.58.

The government charged Halliburton with destroying computer simulations that it conducted a few months after the spill that were related to the process of using cement to seal the pipes in oil wells.

Monday, July 22, 2013

How to save billions on Alzheimer's care? Fully fund early childhood education

Unwisely, the sequester is hitting early childhood education. Head Start has been forced to cut back its programs. Our children will pay in the future.

Keys to preventing Alzheimer's disease
Karen Weintraub
July 20, 2013

...Even in early childhood, we may be able to lay the groundwork for a healthy brain decades later.

Studies consistently find that people with more education are less likely to develop Alzheimer's. "Sometimes I think the best way to prevent Alzheimer's is fully fund early childhood education," said Arnold, a psychiatrist and neurologist...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

How KKK rally image found new life 20 years after it was published

Photo by Todd Robertson, courtesy of the Southern Poverty Law Center

How KKK rally image found new life 20 years after it was published
by David Griner
Jan. 9, 2013

Buried on Page B1, alongside the hum-drum headline “KKK march calm,” a powerful image of race relations in the southern United States was nearly lost. In fact, it almost wasn’t published at all.

And in the 20 years since, this emotionally complex photograph of a Klan-robed toddler playfully touching the riot shield of a bemused African-American state trooper has gone uncelebrated and largely unknown.

Now, thanks to a few twists of fate, the photo has been granted a second life through social media, where each viewer seems to read something different into the image. Is it disturbing? Hopeful? Humorous? Touching?

Heartbreaking? Many who have shared the photo online admit they know little about its origins, which is understandable. Aside from a few basic details, such as the photographer’s name and a rough guess on the year, the full story behind this photo has never appeared online until today.

After first seeing the photo shared on Facebook a month ago, I decided to track down the photographer, who now describes himself as “a 45-year-old cabinet designer who has nothing to do with pictures.” In a recent phone interview, Todd Robertson shared the full story, which proved even more interesting than I’d imagined.

Of course, it all begins on the day the image was captured: Sept. 5, 1992.

The Ku Klux Klan was holding a rally in the northeast Georgia community of Gainesville, where the white supremacist group hoped to breathe some life into its flagging revival campaign of the late 1980s and early ’90s.

Assigned as a backup photographer for the local daily, The Gainesville Times, was Robertson, a 1991 graduate of the University of Georgia’s Grady School of Journalism. He had a few recurring gigs, including shooting high school football for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but a full-time photojournalism job had proved elusive.

At the Klan rally, there wasn’t a tremendous amount of action for Robertson to record. According to news reports from the day, there were 66 KKK representatives, encircled by three times as many law enforcement personnel. The downtown square was otherwise empty, with about 100 observers at the fringe, mostly there to demonstrate against the Klan.

The white supremacists were out-of-towners with no real local support in Gainesville. “Many people who came to these Klan events were not from here,” recalls Gainesville Times new media editor Michael Beard in an email to me about the photo’s history. “I’ve lived here all my life and can only recall seeing someone in a Klan outfit one single time, standing alone at an intersection trying to hand out papers.”

While reporters and the staff photographer focused on the speakers at the rally and watched for potential signs of conflict, Robertson chose to follow a mother and her two young boys, dressed in white robes and the KKK’s iconic pointy hats.

One of the boys approached a black state trooper, who was holding his riot shield on the ground. Seeing his reflection, the boy reached for the shield, and Robertson snapped the photo. Almost immediately, the mother swooped in and took away the toddler, whom she identified to Robertson as “Josh.” The moment was fleeting, and almost no one noticed it, but Robertson had captured it on film.

And a roll of film seemed to be where it was destined to stay. Back at the newspaper office, Robertson was told his photos weren’t worth developing because the staff photographer had come back with plenty of good images from the rally. A photograph of a Klan leader was selected to be the primary shot for the Local section cover.

On his own initiative, Robertson took his film to a local one-hour photo developer and brought a stack of 4×6 prints back to the newspaper office. He was showing the photo of the young boy and the trooper to a few reporters when the managing editor walked by.

“He grabbed it up, walked directly to the photo guy and said, ‘This picture’s running in the paper,’” Robertson says. “That staff photographer and I are still friends, but we weren’t that day.”

While it only appeared in black-and-white on Page B1 of a small community newspaper, the photo also hit the Associated Press wire, where it sparked some unexpected attention...

'Crack baby' study ends with unexpected but clear result

'Crack baby' study ends with unexpected but clear result
Susan FitzGerald
For The Inquirer
July 21, 2013

Jaimee Drakewood hurried in from the rain, eager to get to her final appointment at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Ever since her birth 23 years ago, a team of researchers has been tracking every aspect of her development - gauging her progress as an infant, measuring her IQ as a prechooler, even peering into her adolescent brain using an MRI machine.

Now, after nearly a quarter century, the federally funded study was ending, and the question the researchers had been asking was answered. Did cocaine harm the long-term development of children like Jaimee, who were exposed to the drug in their mother's womb? MORE COVERAGE Possible Down syndrome genetic correction found Babies of Heavy Moms Grow Slower: Study Baby's Healthy Diet Feeds IQ, Study Finds The researchers had expected the answer would be a resounding yes. But it wasn't. Another factor would prove far more critical.

A crack epidemic was raging in Philadelphia in 1989 when Hallam Hurt, then chair of neonatology at Albert Einstein Medical Center on North Broad Street, began a study to evaluate the effects of in-utero cocaine exposure on babies. In maternity wards in Philadelphia and elsewhere, caregivers were seeing more mothers hooked on cheap, smokable crack cocaine. A 1989 study in Philadelphia found that nearly one in six newborns at city hospitals had mothers who tested positive for cocaine. Troubling stories were circulating about the so-called crack babies.

They had small heads and were easily agitated and prone to tremors and bad muscle tone, according to reports, many of which were anecdotal. Worse, the babies seemed aloof and avoided eye contact. Some social workers predicted a lost generation - kids with a host of learning and emotional deficits who would overwhelm school systems and not be able to hold a job or form meaningful relationships. The "crack baby" image became symbolic of bad mothering, and some cocaine-using mothers had their babies taken from them or, in a few cases, were arrested. I

t was amid that climate that Hurt organized a study of 224 near-term or full-term babies born at Einstein between 1989 and 1992 - half with mothers who used cocaine during pregnancy and half who were not exposed to the drug in utero.

All the babies came from low-income families, and nearly all were African Americans. Hurt hoped the study would inform doctors and nurses caring for cocaine-exposed babies and even guide policies for drug prevention, treatment, and follow-up interventions. But she never anticipated that the study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, would become one of the largest and longest-running studies of in-utero cocaine exposure. One mother who signed up was Jaimee's mom, Karen Drakewood.

She was on an all-night crack binge in a drug house near her home in the city's West Oak Lane section when she went into labor. Jaimee was born Jan. 13, 1990, weighing an even 7 pounds. "Jaimee was beautiful when she was born. A head full of hair. She looked like a porcelain doll," Karen Drakewood, now 51, said recently in her Overbrook kitchen. "She was perfect." But Drakewood knew looks could be deceiving.

"My worst fear was that Jaimee would be slow, mentally retarded, or something like that because of me doing drugs," she said. She agreed to enroll her baby in the cocaine study at Einstein. Drakewood promised herself that she would turn her life around for the sake of Jaimee and her older daughter, but she soon went back to smoking crack. Hurt arrived early at Children's Hospital one morning in June to give a talk on her team's findings to coworkers. After nearly 25 years of studying the effects of cocaine and publishing or presenting dozens of findings, it wasn't easy to summarize it in a PowerPoint presentation. The study received nearly $7.9 million in federal funding over the years, as well as $130,000 from the Einstein Society. Hurt, who had taken her team from Einstein to Children's in 2003, began her lecture with quotations from the media around the time the study began.

A social worker on TV predicted that a crack baby would grow up to "have an IQ of perhaps 50." A print article quoted a psychologist as saying "crack was interfering with the central core of what it is to be human," and yet another article predicted that crack babies were "doomed to a life of uncertain suffering, of probable deviance, of permanent inferiority." Hurt, who is also a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania, is always quick to point out that cocaine can have devastating effects on pregnancy. The drug can cause a problematic rise in a pregnant woman's blood pressure, trigger premature labor, and may be linked to a dangerous condition in which the placenta tears away from the uterine wall. Babies born prematurely, no matter the cause, are at risk for a host of medical and developmental problems.

On top of that, a parent's drug use can create a chaotic home life for a child. Hurt's study enrolled only full-term babies so the possible effects of prematurity did not skew the results. The babies were then evaluated periodically, beginning at six months and then every six or 12 months on through young adulthood. Their mothers agreed to be tested for drug use throughout the study. The researchers consistently found no significant differences between the cocaine-exposed children and the controls.

At age 4, for instance, the average IQ of the cocaine-exposed children was 79.0 and the average IQ for the nonexposed children was 81.9. Both numbers are well below the average of 90 to 109 for U.S. children in the same age group.

When it came to school readiness at age 6, about 25 percent of children in each group scored in the abnormal range on tests for math and letter and word recognition.

"We went looking for the effects of cocaine," Hurt said. But after a time "we began to ask, 'Was there something else going on?' "

While the cocaine-exposed children and a group of nonexposed controls performed about the same on tests, both groups lagged on developmental and intellectual measures compared to the norm. Hurt and her team began to think the "something else" was poverty.

As the children grew, the researchers did many evaluations to tease out environmental factors that could be affecting their development. On the upside, they found that children being raised in a nurturing home - measured by such factors as caregiver warmth and affection and language stimulation - were doing better than kids in a less nurturing home. On the downside, they found that 81 percent of the children had seen someone arrested; 74 percent had heard gunshots; 35 percent had seen someone get shot; and 19 percent had seen a dead body outside - and the kids were only 7 years old at the time. Those children who reported a high exposure to violence were likelier to show signs of depression and anxiety and to have lower self-esteem.

More recently, the team did MRI scans on the participants' brains. Some research has suggested that gestational cocaine exposure can affect brain development, especially the dopamine system, which in turn can harm cognitive function. An area of concern is "executive functioning," a set of skills involved in planning, problem-solving, and working memory.

The investigators found one brain area linked to attention skills that differed between exposed and nonexposed children, but they could not find any clinically significant effect on behavioral tests of attention skills.

Drug use did not differ between the exposed and nonexposed participants as young adults. About 42 percent used marijuana and three tested positive for cocaine one time each. The team has kept tabs on 110 of the 224 children originally in the study. Of the 110, two are dead - one shot in a bar and another in a drive-by shooting - three are in prison, six graduated from college, and six more are on track to graduate. There have been 60 children born to the 110 participants. The years of tracking kids have led Hurt to a conclusion she didn't see coming. "Poverty is a more powerful influence on the outcome of inner-city children than gestational exposure to cocaine," Hurt said at her May lecture. Other researchers also couldn't find any devastating effects from cocaine exposure in the womb. Claire Coles, a psychiatry professor at Emory University, has been tracking a group of low-income Atlanta children. Her work has found that cocaine exposure does not seem to affect children's overall cognition and school performance, but some evidence suggests that these children are less able to regulate their reactions to stressful stimuli, which could affect learning and emotional health.

Coles said her research had found nothing to back up predictions that cocaine-exposed babies were doomed for life. "As a society we say, 'Cocaine is bad and therefore it must cause damage to babies,' " Coles said. "When you have a myth, it tends to linger for a long time." Deborah A. Frank, a pediatrics professor at Boston University who has tracked a similar group of children, said the "crack baby" label led to erroneous stereotyping. "You can't walk into a classroom and tell this kid was exposed and this kid was not," Frank said. "Unfortunately, there are so many factors that affect poor kids. They have to deal with so much stress and deprivation. We have also found that exposure to violence is a huge factor." Frank said that cocaine - along with other illicit drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes - "isn't good for babies," but the belief that they would "grow up to be addicts and criminals is not true. Some kids have stunned us with how well they've done." Jaimee Drakewood came to her last visit at Children's with her 16-month-old son KyMani in tow. It was the 31st time she had met with the researchers. "We do appreciate everything you've done, because it's not easy to get to all these appointments," said team member Kathleen Dooley, as she handed Drakewood a framed certificate of appreciation. "We are proud of you and we feel you are family, because you are." The team plans to stay in touch with study participants each year. They have started a new study that uses MRI and other tools to explore the neural and cognitive effects of poverty on infant development.

"Given what we learned," Hurt said, "we are invested in better understanding the effects of poverty. How can early effects be detected? Which developing systems are affected? And most important, how can findings inform interventions for our children?"

The team considers Jaimee and her mother, Karen, among their best success stories. Jaimee is heading into her senior year at Tuskegee University in Alabama and hopes to become a food inspector. She is home for the summer with her son and working as a lifeguard at a city pool. After a few starts and stops, including a year in jail, Karen Drakewood is off drugs and works as a residential adviser at Gaudenzia House.

Her older daughter just received a master's degree at Drexel University; her son is a student at Florida Atlantic University. Even in the worst moments, Karen Drakewood said she tried to show her kids "what their future could hold." "If a child sees the light, they will follow it." Jaimee Drakewood credits her big sister and mother for keeping her on track. "I've seen my mom at her lowest point and I've seen her at her highest. That hasn't stopped me from seeing the superwoman in her regardless of where she was at," Jaimee said. Despite her family's history, Jaimee believes she and her siblings are "destined to have accomplishments, to be greater than our parents."

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Take Two 'Normal' People, Add Money To Just One Of Them, and Watch

Players who were given extra money when playing Monopoly attributed their wins to their own skill and personal worthiness. Wealthier subjects stole twice as much candy from babies.

Take Two 'Normal' People, Add Money To Just One Of Them, And Watch What Happens Next (VIDEO)
Brandon Weber

Science can explain a lot of things that I've always wondered about (go, science!). In this case, it explains what I've known for a long time but been unable to quite understand: Why do some folks who have a lot more money than others seem to be less nice and more evil to everyone around them?

At 0:50, someone actually takes candy from babies. No, really. At 3:00, we start to see the science unfold before our eyes. Entire management courses could — and should — be taught with the bit starting at 4:40.

See also:
Severe and unequal school discipline preceded the killing of innocent bystander Christopher Lane
Why the Wealthy Favor Harsh Punishment — for Criminals and Errant Schoolchildren
Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior
PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
(Study from UC Berkeley and University of Toronto) Nov. 8, 2011

Teacher Thad Jesperson gets his job back: Court of Appeal supports OAH decision, overrules Judge Nevitt

See all posts re Thad Jesperson.

Judge Reverses Firing of Teacher Tried for Molestation
March 29, 2013

A Fourth District Court [of Appeal in California] judge on Wednesday overturned the firing of a San Diego teacher who spent more than three years in prison after being falsely convicted of molesting second and third grade students.

In a written ruling, the judge noted that officials at Clairemont's Toler Elementary School acted erroneously when they terminated Thad Jesperson's employment in November 2008.

Jesperson was arrested in April 2003, tried three times and ultimately convicted on seven counts of molestation. He was sentenced to serve 15 years to life in prison but was released in 2007 because of misconduct on the part of jurors and ineffective assistance from his own attorney. All convictions were overturned and Jesperson asked Toler Elementary officials to reinstate him.

The school denied his request despite the overturning of all molestation convictions and a ruling from a commission on professional competence that Jesperson was fit to teach and that "the evidence (in the case) did not establish that he touched (one of the students who accused Jesperson of molestation) in the manner to which she testified, or in any other manner that was immoral or a violation of district regulations...".

The Education of Mr. J.
San Diego Magazine
May 2008

THE YOUNG THUG’S SHAVED SKULL bore a tattoo of a gargoyle holding the severed head of Jesus. He approached in slow motion, swinging his head side to side, muttering expletives. His target, Thad Jesperson, sat motionless in a corner of the jail cell reserved for snitches, gays and child molesters. The ex-teacher’s eyes were wide with terror, his ears ringing with screams from adjoining cells: “Get him! Kill him!” His nightmare—that he would not get back home safely to his family—was playing out.

The kid growled something about “Chester,” jail slang for a child molester—the worst label for an inmate. He kept coming.

Jesperson, a devout Christian and pacifist, realized that in the next moment he had to somehow convince this advancing, irrational force of something Jesperson and his attorney had failed to make clear to jurors: that he was not a molester; that he had never harmed a child.

Now others lined up, awaiting turns to impress the cheering section. Hyper-alert, Jesperson saw from the way the kid was balanced that he would swing with his right, a shot straight to the face.

Thad Jesperson knew in his heart he didn’t belong behind bars. But he had no choice now except to deal with it.

KIDS, PARENTS AND TEACHERS at William P. Toler Elementary School in Clairemont Mesa knew Jesperson as Mr. J, a fond moniker for a man many described as an immensely popular, innovative teacher. Toler was small, a few hundred students, about a third of them Hispanics bused in from the South Bay.

When first questioned, each of the girls who would later accuse him denied Mr. J had touched them inappropriately. But after repeated questioning by police detectives, parents, social workers, district attorney’s investigators and other students, the girls’ stories changed. Experienced molestation interviewers say that turnabout is not uncommon.

Concern among Toler parents was spurred by letters sent home saying a teacher was suspected of molesting students. The letters urged parents to question their children, a red flag to many child-abuse experts. In high-profile false-accusation cases a generation ago, badgering by parents and misguided therapists led to fantastic stories by youngsters of not only sexual abuse but also blood rituals and animal sacrifice in classrooms. The notorious Dale Akiki prosecution in San Diego and the McMartin Preschool case in suburban Los Angeles were two of the more famous among at least 100 such “witch hunt” prosecutions across America.

San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis vigorously defends the decision to prosecute Jesperson. She says lessons learned from the phony case against Akiki provided safeguards against false allegations in the investigation at Toler Elementary School.

Dumanis says the Jesperson case was vetted by a panel of experienced prosecutors. Her team decided the girls’ statements were strong enough to convince jurors of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution’s ultimate success on that score was decidedly mixed, however.

As prosecutor Tracy Prior, an 11-year veteran in the Family Protection Division, told the court, the “entire case rides on the backs of 9- and 10-year-olds.” There was no corroborating evidence, and there were no independent witnesses against Jesperson. The issue of suggestibility played a prominent role at trial.

At the time of his arrest in April 2003, Jesperson had no criminal record. The defendant, who has a master’s degree in education, came relatively late to teaching. Born in San Diego in 1964, Jesperson spent two years in South America (starting at age 20) as part of a mission with the Mormon Church. For five years, until he was 28, Jesperson owned a carpet-cleaning business. Then he decided to enter the classroom.

Married for 20 years, Sydney and Thad Jesperson have two sons and two daughters. The four kids, who range in age from 11 to 19, passed a number of significant milestones while their father was behind bars; Jesperson participated as best he could over a prison phone line and by mail.

The genesis of most of the accusations, according to court documents, came on a December day in 2002, after Jesperson walked past and said hello to five girls gathered in the schoolyard.

“Third graders Michelle, Kelcey, Dreanna, Renee and Vanessa were talking when one of the girls mentioned that [Jesperson] had touched her leg and back the previous year and that it felt ‘uncomfortable,’ ” is how one court brief put it. “Kelcey said [Jesperson] had touched her shoulder. Vanessa, who was never in any of [Jesperson’s] classes and made no accusations, testified she told the girls that such touching was ‘child molesting.’ ” She’d learned about it “on a TV program called Law and Order. ”

Michelle reported the conversation to her mother, who does not speak English. The distraught mother sought out a woman at school whom many Hispanic parents considered to be a counselor. In fact, Nellie Goodwin was the “bus lady,” a part-time employee who shepherded kids from buses and helped supervise at recess.

When Michelle’s mother told Goodwin her daughter talked with friends about Jesperson touching them, Goodwin responded: “This is not the first time we’ve had a report about this teacher. I don’t know why he is even here; he is not a good teacher.” Then Goodwin started crying and told the mother not to repeat what she had said. Goodwin, according to court testimony, said she would look into the matter; the mother would be called by the end of the day. When that call didn’t come, Michelle’s mother called San Diego Police.

Kimberly Newbold was assigned to the case. The young detective decided to interview only the girls who had been in Jesperson’s class because, she later testified, “I was looking for victims.” Despite the girls’ initial denials about “bad touching,” the questioning did not stop.

MOLESTATION ACCUSATIONS emerged and evolved through Jesperson’s preliminary hearing and his trials. They included that he rubbed girls on their thighs and backsides during reading sessions in front of the class.

Most of the alleged fondling was done through their clothing, the girls testified. But some eventually said he pulled down their underwear, or removed their “nylons,” in order to touch their “private parts.” There was no allegation of penetration, rape, oral sex or any type of act more serious than fondling.

The abuse was alleged to have occurred in a busy classroom where teachers, school staff and parents came and went freely, often to use computers. During much of the period in question, an aide to an autistic student was present in Jesperson’s class; neither she nor any other adult ever saw him inappropriately touch a child. Classroom doors and blinds were open, according to testimony, and Jesperson commonly sat in plain view at the front of the class, usually next to students he was helping learn to read.

Jesperson and his trial attorney, Robert Boyce, said the idea that a molester would choose such a setting for his crimes made no sense. But D.A. Dumanis said a molester might well operate in plain sight in order to later make that argument.

The fact that no pornography was found on the ex-teacher’s school and personal computers was an example of the prosecution trying to turn something positive for the defense into a liability, according to Jesperson’s attorneys. Prosecutor Prior emphasized to jurors that a school colleague of Jesperson’s had erased personal files and e-mail from the hard drive of Jesperson’s work computer after he was arrested and fired. “And it’s [pornography] gone forever,” Prior said in a closing argument. “There is no child pornography . . . We would never have known, because it’s now gone forever.”

But Jesperson’s lawyers noted it was routine to erase school computer files once an employee leaves. Besides, FBI investigators were able to restore 90 percent of Jesperson’s school hard drive (his home computer had not been erased), and no pornography of any kind was found.

The four kids, who range in age from 11 to 19, passed a number of significant milestones while their father was behind bars.

JESPERSON BELIEVES now the case against him was the result of two basic dynamics: the bruised feelings of a few girls from his previous second-grade class, and the bruised ego of Nellie Goodwin.

Prior to the 2002-03 school year, Jesperson had been assigned to teach the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) third-grade class, for which students must pass an aptitude test. Some of his second-grade students, including Michelle, who made the original molestation allegation (and who had not qualified for the GATE class), approached Jesperson again and again on the playground, pleading to be in his class.

Several Toler staff members testified they had seen the girls constantly pestering Jesperson. One day late in the fall, Jesperson said, he felt especially awkward because the girls were “begging to be in my class” as he was standing next to the teacher whose class they were in.

“In what I thought was a rather stern demeanor, she said to them, ‘Don’t you get it? You can’t be in his class.’ And she said something along the lines of ‘He doesn’t want you in his class.’ It made me feel very uncomfortable; I did not want to hurt their feelings,” Jesperson said. “By the same token, it was a relief. After that, suddenly they were no longer coming up and bothering me.”

Then, at a Christmas assembly, Jesperson was asked to pass out about 20 jingle bells among more than 80 kids. Michelle was skipped over, he said, and was clearly angry. From then on, Jesperson said, her demeanor toward him changed.

“Her body language in the hallway said, ‘I don’t like you anymore.’ ” He recalls the day he said hello while walking past Michelle and the other girls. “It was clear something bizarre was happening. I saw them looking at me and whispering, and I remember thinking, ‘That can’t be good, whatever is going on there.’ ”

Jesperson, who says, “My heart goes out to those parents,” noted that when Michelle’s mother sought counsel from Goodwin, the schoolyard aide was apparently primed to disparage him. “During one of the first meetings after I came to the school [in 1998], long before any of this came about, the principal asked me to translate for the benefit of Spanish-speaking parents and kids,” he says. “I’m going around the halls speaking Spanish to these children. For me, it was one more way to interact and make my job fun.”

Translating for the principal? Interacting with Spanish-speaking parents and students? That’s what Goodwin did.

“It seems,” Jesperson says, “that I had encroached on Nellie Goodwin’s world.”

IN APRIL 2003, Jesperson was arrested, then released on $100,000 bail. Trial began the following March on 13 counts of molesting eight girls. Emily, who came forward only after the school sent the warning letters home, said the touching was over her underwear but inside her pants on the back area of her private parts.

Court documents show Emily had at first said only that Jesperson patted her leg after helping her tie her shoes. The seven other girls described various touching episodes; their parents testified about what their daughters had told them. Detective Newbold, who did not re cord her interviews, testified, as did hospital social workers, whose videotaped interviews were entered into evidence.

Aside from a parade of character witnesses, the cornerstone of Jesperson’s defense was that the children’s inconsistent, sometimes improbable, stories were the result of suggestibility.

Alison Clarke-Stewart, a professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine who is an expert on child suggestibility and memory, was not allowed by the court to give her opinion. Instead, the professor testified that children are more susceptible to suggestibility than adults, and if they are led to believe that someone is “a bad person,” they will reinterpret innocuous actions as inappropriate.

But in an interview, Clarke-Stewart was unequivocal about her conclusions. “I absolutely do not believe this man did any inappropriate touching with these children,” she says. “Much of it was a congratulatory thing, a pat on the leg, an arm around a child where, because he’s so large, his hand may have extended to the outside of the hip or leg. I thought it was pretty clear what happened in this case.

“The kids and parents [thought] something bad happened at the school. The girls talked a lot among themselves; contamination was likely here. Parents are in no position to do this kind of questioning—they are not trained, and they have an obvious conflict of interest. That letter [from the school to parents] was a very bad idea.”

Clarke-Stewart says she did not believe the questioning at Children’s Hospital was egregious, though. “In San Diego, people are very aware of leading children in questioning, because of previous cases, like Akiki,” she says. “Suggestibility is more subtle these days.”

A main problem: Interviewers offered children no innocent alternative explanation for Mr. J’s occasional pats on the back or leg, she says. “It was only viewed as molestation.”

The second prong of Jesperson’s defense involved personality evaluations. Forensic psychologist Clark Clipson examines sexually violent predators for local courts and usually testifies for the prosecution. Clipson, who was hired by Boyce, has evaluated hundreds of sex offenders, including many teachers.

“I felt much more strongly about this case than I do about most,” says the soft-spoken Clipson. “I saw nothing to indicate this man is sexually attracted to children in any way. He came out with a very clean psychological evaluation.”

The jury in the first trial found Jesperson guilty on a single count involving Emily. Jurors either voted for acquittal or were unable to reach verdicts on the 12 other counts. They did reach a verdict, however, on the allegation that he had abused multiple victims: That was not true, the jury said.

With the conviction, Jesperson’s bail was revoked, and he went to jail. Prosecutors prepared to try him a second time on the hung charges.

WHEN THE KID with the gruesome tattoo on his skull swung with his right, Jesperson threw his left arm up and blocked the blow. Then he stood to his full 6 feet 4 inches, held the attacker at arm’s length and said: “You don’t know who I am.”

“You mean you’re not a Chester?” the kid said.

“No,” Jesperson replied, “I am definitely not a Chester. I am a father of four children, been married for 20 years, and my only objective is to get home safely. You have no worries with me.”

With that, the situation was defused. It turned out to be Jesperson’s only violent confrontation behind bars.

Early on in county jail at Vista, Jesperson says, he encountered a 300-pound, heavily tattooed lifer named San Quentin Steve “who scared me to death.” But San Quentin Steve befriended him on the spot, Jesperson says, telling him it was obvious he did not belong there. The convicted killer and former addict then proceeded to teach him how to survive.

Jesperson believes San Quentin Steve was an angel sent by God.

“Basically, he said to hold my head up high, no matter what,” says Jesperson. “He said respect is something that is earned and I would ultimately be judged by who I was, and that regardless of what was being said about me, I knew in my heart who I was . . . the rest would work itself out. And he was right.”

During nearly four years in county jails and state prisons, Thad Jesperson saw stabbings and beatings, riots and lockdowns. He spent almost 100 days in solitary confinement “for my own safety.” He was denied visits by his children, even though a judge had approved them.

While Jesperson was locked up, his daughter Lauren, now 19, learned to drive, graduated from high school, had her first dates and became an independent, working college student. His daughter Sherie, now 18, was voted homecoming princess at her high school, was elected junior-class president and accepted at two universities. His son, James, now 13, took up the clarinet and soccer, qualified for his Eagle Scout badge and won several writing awards. And youngest son Thomas, 11, finished elementary school, joined a soccer team, learned to play the saxophone and guitar and embarked on his own Boy Scout career.

In addition to working on her husband’s defense cases and interacting with hundreds of supporters, Sydney Jesperson built a home-based accounting career. Those skills came in handy as three trials devastated the family’s finances. Donations from church members, family and hundreds of friends are what sustained his family, Jesperson says, enabling them to keep their house and keep the kids clothed and fed.

Jesperson’s second trial mirrored his first. Jurors struggled with the case, eventually convicting him on a single count while acquitting him or disagreeing on 10 others. Their lone conviction was vacated by the trial judge, who ruled juror bias had tainted the verdict.

In his third trial, however, Jesperson was found guilty on seven counts of molesting four of his former students. In February 2005, Superior Court Judge David Danielson sentenced him to 15 years to life in prison, with no possibility of parole for 12 years.

Jesperson, who had refused to discuss plea-bargains that may have gained his freedom earlier—one huge concern was having to register as a sex offender and not being able to be around children ever again, especially future grandchildren—vowed to rely on his faith in God, the love of his family and many supporters and the positive bonds he had forged with several prisoners, to see him through. Steeling himself for the ordeal ahead, he said he dared not hope an appeal filed on his behalf by esteemed San Diego attorney Chuck Sevillia would bear fruit.

ON THE MORNING of September 15, 2007, Jesperson walked into the visitors’ room at Pleasant Valley State prison in Fresno County, took one look at his wife, his sister Shauna and her husband, Dave, and “my good friend Mike, the parent of two of my former students,” and knew immediately something was up. They were allowed to step out onto a private patio, where Sydney told her husband the news: In an 80-page ruling, a state appeals court had overturned his convictions on grounds that he did not get fair trials due to juror misconduct; failures by his attorney, Robert Boyce; and mistakes made by his trial judge.

“Sydney held both of my hands and, looking into my eyes through tears of joy, said, ‘Thad, all eight counts have been re versed,’ ” Jesperson recalls. “It was as if a rush of wind went through my whole body. My legs began to give way as my dear wife held me. I did my best to retain the tough-prisoner facade I had become accustomed to—there is no crying in prison—as an incredible feeling of joy washed over me.”

In mid-December, when Jesperson was released on bail pending new charges and a possible fourth trial, more than 300 family members, neighbors and friends crowded his cul-de-sac. They carried welcome-home signs and candles and sang Christmas carols.

A month later, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis decided against trying him a fourth time, saying it was time to “spare these brave children” the ordeal of having to testify again.

The dismissal hearing, hastily arranged late on a Friday afternoon, played out in a near-empty courtroom. Prior made one last impassioned speech about how “36 jurors across three trials” had declared Jesperson a child molester, words that rang specious and hollow in light of the ruling by the appeals court. Boyce accepted the dismissal of all charges, speaking not a word for the record in Jesperson’s defense.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Tim Crews wins in California Court of Appeal; trial court may not punish him for filing suit to get public records from school district

The California School Boards Association (CSBA) supported Willows School District's use of taxpayer dollars to sue a citizen for demanding transparency.

See previous post on this story HERE.

Victory for publisher Tim Crews and CPRA in Appeals Court decision
First Amendment Coalition
July 19, 2013

Tim Crews, Editor & Publisher Willows Valley Mirror

A state Court of Appeal has ruled that small-town California newspaper publisher Tim Crews does not have to pay legal fees to a school board he sued over his public records request. The unanimous decision (read the Court of Appeal's decision) represents a crucial victory for government transparency and a welcome success for the First Amendment Coalition, which was instrumental in organizing and underwriting Crews’ successful defense.

“The appeals court’s decision makes clear that, in deciding whether to go to court to contest an agency’s denial of your request for public records, you will not have to fear a crushing penalty,” said Peter Scheer, FAC’s executive director. “If the court had decided differently, no journalist or ordinary citizen would ever again file suit to enforce the PRA, for fear of being bankrupted by a court order to pay a penalty of tens of thousands of dollars.”

Scheer added: “That would have been a disaster, not just for Tim Crews of course, but for government transparency in general.”

The case grows out of a public records request filed by Crews, publisher of the Sacramento Valley Mirror in Glenn County, an agricultural community in Northern California. The request sought emails of the superintendent for the Willows Unified School District. Crews was investigating whether the district was using school resources to influence a political campaign (a line of inquiry that ultimately did not pan out).

The school district began delivering copies of the emails the day after Crews filed suit. It also withheld several thousand emails on various grounds. A Superior Court judge ruled in the district’s favor after reviewing the withheld emails. The court not only dismissed Crews’ PRA suit, but then took the highly unusual step of ruling that Crews’ case was frivolous and on that basis ordering him to pay the district’s legal fees--an amount that was ultimately set at $56,000.

The Appeals Court, while agreeing with the dismissal of Crews’ PRA suit, squarely rejected both the finding that the case was frivolous and the resulting order to pay the district’s legal fees.

The Court emphasized that a fee award is a form of “punishment [that] should be used most sparingly to deter only the most egregious conduct.” Failing to prevail in a PRA lawsuit, by itself, is never enough to justify a fee award. The Court said a suit could be found “frivolous” only if filed in bad faith--for example, “to harass” an agency rather than to obtain information--or if the suit’s legal basis is so implausible that “any reasonable attorney would agree” it is “totally without merit.

Under the appeals court’s interpretation of the PRA, a plaintiff and her lawyer, when deciding to sue to gain access to records, don’t have to be confident that they will prevail. Even if they expect to lose, they can file a suit without fearing a crushing penalty in the form of an award of legal fees.

The court said: “Counsel and their clients have a right to present issues that are arguably correct, even if it is extremely unlikely that they will win.”

FAC became involved in Crews’ defense after he was ordered to pay the district’s legal fees. FAC helped Crews in lining up legal representation--his attorney for the appeal was Karl Olson (of Ram, Olson, Cereghino & Kopczynski in San Francisco). Also for the appeal, FAC took the lead in organizing amicus brief support for Crews. Two amicus briefs were filed, one brief on behalf of media companies (prepared by Duffy Carolan and her colleagues at Davis Wright Tremaine) and another on behalf of pro-access government officials (prepared by Terry Francke of Californians Aware).

“For us, Tim’s case was absolutely make or break,” said Scheer. “The only means of enforcing the PRA is through civil suits that challenge agencies’ withholding of requested records,” he said. “If Tim’s penalty had been affirmed, that would have been the end of PRA enforcement.”

The cost of Crews’ representation was substantially underwritten by FAC’s Rebele Legal Fund, a special fund for open-government litigation named for FAC Board member Roland (“Reb”) Rebele, the founding (and biggest) contributor to the fund. (Other major contributions were made by Raymond Pryke, Susan McClatchy and Allen McCombs, among others.)

The Rebele Legal Fund provides funding support for important open-government and first amendment cases in which, for a variety of reasons, pro bono (i.e., free) legal representation may not be available. Normally the fund is for cases in which FAC, by action of its Board of Directors, has decided to participate as a party.

Judge Byrd dismisses GCBE actions v. Mirror
By Tim Crews
Sacramento Valley Mirror
March 3, 2007

Willows—A decidedly grumpy Superior Court Judge Don Byrd yesterday dismissed the counter actions against this newspaper. In the complex aftermath of the Sacramento lawsuit against the Glenn County Office of Education, the Glenn County Board of Education refused to join in a settlement, a victory for the newspaper — and for access to public information.

The board, a somnambulating beast awakened when Arturo Barrera took office as the new Glenn County Schools Superintendent, tried to drag to unresolved matters. They mumbled about “enforcing a temporary restraining order” when none was issued. (One of the several judges involved, Judge Golden said that GCOE attorneys needed to describe the behavior they wanted prevented. And that would all boil down to prior restraint.) The board seemed to want the MIRROR punished for revealing embarrassing things about GCOE, misspending, destruction of records and the like.

In the end Judge Byrd told the new GCOE attorneys that if GCOE wanted an injunction, they’d have to file it. And that way lies a great peril: Prior restraint.

The board seemed crestfallen.

MIRROR attorney Paul Boylan observes, "I have been working with the California Public Records Act for years advising public agencies on how to respond to requests for public records. When I agreed to represent the MIRROR, I really believed that I could negotiate an agreement where the MIRROR received the information it asked for and the GCOE privacy and confidentiality interests could be met. That is the way 99.9 percent of public records disputes are resolved. But not this one. After six months of the nastiest litigation I have ever been part of, I still don't understand why the GCOE fought so hard to keep these records secret. Why pay four different law firms so much money to keep so little secret? It just doesn't make any sense.

"This should have been an uncomplicated, straight forward court proceeding. The court was going to decide a very simple question:

Did the GCOE reasons for keeping documents secret outweigh the public's interest in that same information and the public's right to know? If yes, then the GCOE would have won. If no, then the MIRROR would have won. Simple. But the case got complicated when the GCOE attorneys — the ones hired to handle all of the MIRROR's requests — gave the MIRROR huge amounts of student and personnel information that the MIRROR didn't ask for.

“How on earth did such an incredible mistake happen? These were the experts hired to stop exactly the sort of thing that they ended up doing. It makes no sense. But then the case got even more complicated when the GCOE tried to get that information back — as if that was even possible — and wanted the court to order the MIRROR not to report on the information the GCOE attorneys gave the MIRROR.

“They knew or should have known that the MIRROR would not cooperate with any attempt to compromise its First Amendment rights to get the news and report the news," Mr. Boylan points out. Last year, then-Superintendent Joni Samples appointed a Sacramento attorney as a public records chief, and an expensive one at that. Mark Ellis released a disc to the MIRROR that continued seven years with of special education e-mails.

The e-mails were supposed to have been swept clean of confidential information. They weren’t. We later learned that the attorneys couldn’t f figure out how to open them. So they were tossed in a box with spending records.

And even later GCOE lawyers were supposed to have gone back and produced “clean” versions for us.

They never did.

The MIRROR reported that instead of protecting confidential information, the lawyer had negligently released it.

And then we did a story on the failure of special education management to report suspected child abuse, a story with fictionalized names and the special education children protected, Mr. Ellis sought to have us punished. For his error.

We had earlier turned over the discs, in a stipulated agreement we entered into most reluctantly. We did not agree to turn over our hard drives.

Friday, Judge Byrd scolded both sides and complained about the complex litigation but congratulated both sides for an agreement. With Mr. Ellis appearing by telephone, Judge Byrd reviewed matters, noted that Mr. Ellis had filed for a TRO and “I denied that request.” He asked what GCBE wanted and Donald Anthony Velez Jr ., of Miller Brown & Dannis suggested that the information be eliminated from the MIRROR’s computers, perhaps by the appointment of a “tech savvy” referee.

Judge Byrd waved that off, grumbled a bit more and said he was returning the cart load of records and discs to GCOE.

The Mirror obtained the information legally. We retain it.

Mr. Boylan notes, "We tried to end this nonsense - this huge waste of time and money. The MIRROR offered to settle many times. It didn't do any good. But then Superintendent Barrera fired his attorneys and negotiated an agreement that gave the MIRROR the records the MIRROR asked for in exchange for dismissing the Brown Act and the public records claims against the GCOE and the Board. We thought it was over. The issue of those confidential records - the ones the GCOE's attorney's gave to the MIRROR - was still out there. And no one seemed to know what to do about it.

"Judge Byrd solved that problem. He is an excellent judge. He did for the parties what the parties could not do for themselves — he ended the case by dismissing the actions against the MIRROR. I am grateful."