Saturday, August 31, 2013

How Fagen Friedman Fulfrost managed to lose its contract with Carlsbad Unified: both Democrats and Republicans are disgusted


On September 11, 2013 the Carlsbad Unified School District canceled its contract for legal services from Fagen, Friendman and Fulfrost. I am amazed that there were negative repercussions for unethical behavior by school attorneys (see original post below). I thought school attorneys could act with impunity in every case.

Let's hope that the law firm that gets the work will understand that the Association of School Boards and Council of School Attorneys won't always be able to protect them, and that the public is starting to get wise to what is going on behind the scenes.

ORIGINAL POST: Whose side am I on? Fagen Friedman Fulfrost or Carlsbad Unified School District candidate Sage Naumann? Neither!

See all posts about Kelli Moors and Fagen Friedman Fulfrost.

Sage Naumann, 18, listens to CUSD Board member Kelli Moors condemn his negative campaign tactics at the Aug. 14 meeting. Naumann has been critical of current board members since he began his campaign in January 2013 for election to the CUSD Board...
Photo by Rachel Stine CUSD to appoint new board member Coast News Aug 15, 2013

[Irony alert: Kelli Moors voted for a school district contract with Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost law firm, then 12 days later went to work for the firm. She apparently wants citizens to leave the negative tactics to the lawyers. Efforts to silence complaints by the public have also been going on at Sweetwater Union High School District, where lawyer Dan Shinoff lectured members of the public on civility and wrote a threatening letter to a member of the bond committee.]

Fagen Friedman Fulfrost (FFF) law firm founder Howard Fulfrost,
member of the School Attorney Advisory Board

Mr. Fulfrost, partner in Carlsbad Unified's law firm Fagen Friedman Fulfrost, is famously loyal to school officials. So loyal, in fact, that a federal judge has accused his former firm of lying and obstruction. This is a big deal to me (Maura Larkins), and I've provided some information about FFF below that has not been mentioned by the media during the current brouhaha--though it should have been.

Nevertheless, I believe that some things are more urgent than the sisyphean task of finding an ethical firm of school attorneys for Carlsbad Unified.

Although I am similar to Sage Naumann in that I demand accountability from school board members, right now I'd like to set aside the issue of corruption in schools and talk about something more important: teaching and learning!

Sage Naumann is right that school districts are corrupt.

But so is almost every other institution in the city, the state, and the world. Most human beings are greedy and shortsighted, and they abuse power when they get it. And it is true that corruption tends to lower the average quality of teachers and administrators since personnel decisions are so deeply influenced by politics. But good teachers and good ideas are struggling to be heard, and we need to listen. We can't stop everything to try to eliminate a problem that has existed as long as human beings have existed.

Mr. Naumann is wrong on the most important current issue: implementing Common Core standards in classrooms.

Once in a while people actually work for the common good, and Common Core is the product of one such effort. The designers worked hard because they want students to understand their world and know how to navigate it.

Our education system is a failure, and it's not just the fault of kids and families. Most teachers are mediocre, and many are downright bad. Few of them have received adequate training, not to mention a real education. Common Core is a system that helps teachers do a better job.

The main idea of Common Core is that instead of rapidly introducing a long series of facts, American teachers will imitate successful schools in successful countries, and deeply explore a smaller number of ideas. Quick learners can learn how to fully analyze information, and slower learners will have a chance to really learn something, instead of being lost most of the time.

And big money is being offered to help teachers do this.

I oppose Sage Naumann for one reason: he opposes Common Core. But he's right about all that other stuff.


Carlsbad Unified claims that it hired Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost immediately after the law firm was formed (by Howard Fulfrost and other lawyers who were sanctioned by a federal judge for lying in the Moser case when working for Lozano Smith). Soon after that ruling, Lozano Smith shut down its special education section. Basically, FFF is Lozano Smith under a new name. And Carlsbad Unified is using this to defend themselves? Just how smart are these people?

CUSD Board President Elisa Williamson

CUSD Board President Releases Statement on Law Firm Contract
Posted by Deanne Goodman (Editor)
August 26, 2013

The following is written by Elisa Williamson [and was also posted on the district's website]:

We are aware that concerns have been raised regarding the relationship between the school district and the law firm of Fagen, Friedman, & Fulfrost in light of that firm's hiring of Trustee Kelli Moors. Although the Board is not privy to the details surrounding the timing of Ms. Moors' discussions with the firm, in an abundance of caution, the contract that was voted on at our July 24 meeting will be brought back for a re-vote at our meeting on September 11. Re-voting on the contract renewal after Trustee Moor's departure will obviate any questions about the validity of the Board's ultimate vote under the law.

The school district has utilized the services of Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost since the firm was founded in 2006. The bulk of expenditures over the past seven years have been for legal services related to Special Education and Personnel matters. Prior to 2006, the partners in Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost provided legal assistance to CUSD while working for another firm.

[Maura Larkins comment: The firm that Ms. Williamson is referring to without naming it--for good reason!--is Lozano Smith. Carlsbad Unified chose to hire a law firm whose previous incarnation used lying and obstruction to deprive a special education student of an appropriate education. See following article.

Melanie Petersen of FFF

Ms. Williamson also says that "partners in Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost provided legal assistance to CUSD while working for another firm." I think she may be talking about Melanie Petersen.]

Despite the district's long-standing relationship with the firm, on August 7th I informed the Superintendent that, at the September 11, 2013 Board meeting, I will be recommending that the District limit its use of the services of Fagen, Friedman, & Fulfrost to only those areas that staff deems critical to the District.

Elisa Williamson, President
Board of Trustees


Attorney Elaine Yama, sanctioned along with Howard Fulfrost for lying and obstruction when they were at Lozano Smith

Article about Moser v. Bret Harte High School District on the Parent Advocates website:

California Federal Judge Sanctions Law Firm For Lying in a Special Education Case
Fresno law firm Lozano Smith billed the school district $500,000 for a case that could have been settled years ago for $8,000. How this makes sense is beyond us. Betsy Combier

Lying, obstruction cited in sanctions for law firm
Fresno's Lozano Smith, attorney ordered to train in ethics
By Erin Kennedy
The Fresno Bee
January 18, 2005

Fresno law firm Lozano Smith and its attorney Elaine Yama have been sanctioned by a federal judge for lying, misrepresenting law and facts, and intentionally dragging out a case involving a school district and a special education student.

U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger fined the law firm, Yama and Bret Harte Union High School District in Calaveras County $5,000 each. He also ordered Yama to take 20 hours of ethics courses and Lozano Smith to conduct ethics training for all of its attorneys and shareholders...[Click HERE to see the whole article.]


So, whom do you think the California School Boards Association (CSBA) chose for its legal team? You guessed it--Elaine Yama.

And who trained Board President Elisa Williamson AND trustee Kelli Moors? Right again--CSBA. It gave them each a "Masters in Governance".

So who actually runs the district--the lawyers or the officials? It's hard to unscramble the egg, isn't it? But here's a clue: school board members come and go, but the lawyers remain the same.

The thing I can't understand is why Carlsbad Unified and Elisa Williamson thought nobody was going to find out the backstory about FFF after the Kelli Moors story broke. But there's another backstory I'd like to learn about. What did the board member who abstained from voting on the FFF contract know about FFF? Very likely she knew more than I know.

Elaine Yama-Garcia joins CSBA legal team
April 30, 2012

CSBA’s new associate general counsel is Elaine Yama-Garcia, a mid-career professional with more than 15 years experience practicing law in the areas of education, special education, and labor and employment. Along with General Counsel Keith Bray, she will manage the Education Legal Alliance and respond to corporate legal issues for CSBA and its affiliates.

Yama-Garcia has practiced with the Law Offices of Bennett & Sharpe in the Central Valley, where she represented clients in the areas of labor and employment and special education law. Before that, she worked for the law firm of Lozano Smith in Fresno, specializing in education law, and until recently she managed her own law firm representing school districts and county offices of education.

She earned her law degree from the San Joaquin College of Law in Fresno.

Born and raised in Fresno, Yama-Garcia is married and has an adult married son, a step-son attending college in Costa Rica, and a teenage step-daughter.

“I am thrilled to be part of CSBA’s legal team,” said Yama-Garcia. “I look forward to the many exciting and positive changes we can make to benefit school districts and county offices of education in the state.”

[Maura Larkins comment: I'll give credit to Ms. Yama for one thing. At least she doesn't claim to be trying to benefit students.]

Richard Riehl

Politics Enters Carlsbad School Board Race

Richard J. Riehl
San Diego Reader
August 10, 2013

In the 2008 election I voted for 19-year-old Evan Delaney Rodgers for the Carlsbad City Council. I was sad to see her lose because of the youthful energy and positive attitude she would have brought to that gang of mostly good old boys.

After Kelli Moors announced her retirement from the Carlsbad School Board a few days ago, 18-year-old Sage Naumann declared he's more than eager to take her place. But unless you favor contentiousness and political grandstanding, Naumann has already revealed he wouldn't be the right choice.

Unlike Rodgers' city council campaign, filled with dozens of practical suggestions for improving the city's quality of life, Naumann has begun by smearing two highly respected school district retirees, former Superintendent John Roach and board member Moors. Here's what he posted on his Facebook page:

"Is it just me, or does it seem suspicious that both our Superintendent and a board member have jumped ship to take jobs with a law firm that taxpayers are actively paying for? That’s why I am emailing you. Should I assembly (sic) my team to begin looking deeper, or does this just seem like a harmless coincidence? I’m eager to hear your response."

He urged his followers to reply to "Our mailing address: Sage Naumann for Carlsbad School Board 2014, 2307 Fenton Parkway, Suite 107-114, San Diego, CA 92108.

To paraphrase the young candidate, is it just me, or does it seem suspicious that a candidate for the Carlsbad School Board has a campaign headquarters address next door to Qualcomm Stadium? Email your response to

The law firm to which Naumann refers is Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost, which contracts with the school district for legal advice and hired Roach and Moors as consultants after they left their positions with the district. In the style of Congressman Darrell Issa's discredited witch hunt of the IRS, Naumann makes no accusations, since he has nary a shred of evidence of legal or ethical misbehavior. He simply rallies his supporters with the implication of corruption. Those of us of a certain age remember how effectively Joe McCarthy used that technique.

Naumann's outrage that "taxpayers are actively paying for" the services of a law firm reveals both his naiveté and misuse of an adverb for exaggeration. Would he be less offended if taxpayers paid the law firm inactively?

[Maura Larkins' comment: Defenders of CUSD might want to be careful when criticizing the critical-thinking and writing skills of a recent graduate of Carlsbad High School. It's sort of a two-edged sword. And the phrase "actively paying" sounds perfectly fine to me. It conjures an image of money flowing. I call that good writing.]

The word "irresponsible" comes to mind when characterizing Naumann's character attacks on Roach and Moors. The words "empty promises" best describes his "Back to Basics" campaign theme. In a breathtaking leap of logic, he promises in one paragraph to "do everything I can to question purchases, staff and faculty additions, and other funding that seems unnecessary," to stop the "reckless spending," and to "be a taxpayer's "watchdog." In the next he promises to "keep class sizes small, " "materials available" and "teachers stress-free and able to concentrate on their students, " while "no longer will we look to slashing department budgets to fill shortfalls."

Naumann ignores the district's most pressing challenge: putting in place a plan to implement the Common Core of expected learning outcomes. But we have a glimpse of what he feels about it.

In a Guest Commentary in the conservative blog San Diego Rostra, "Putting the Carlsbad School District Back on Track," Naumann assures a reader: "I have already pledged my support against CCSS, and I will continue my advocacy against it throughout my campaign and if I am elected."

At its July 24 meeting the school board learned CUSD will received approximately $2.1 million in state funds to implement the Common Core during 2013-2015. Judging from his vow to be the taxpayer's watchdog, it sounds as if Naumann will do what he can to turn down the funding. So much for his promise to "Keep cuts away from the classroom."

Naumann's platform calls for making connections with the community. A look at a list of his supporters tells us much about the connections he's already made and what Carlsbadians can look forward to from the influence of his network of colleagues.

Topping the list is Carl DeMaio, former member of the San Diego City Council. He's followed by city council members from Vista, Encinitas and Imperial Beach (none from Carlsbad thus far), School Board members from La Mesa/Spring Valley, Encinitas and Dehesa (none from Carlsbad).

The Vice Chair of the California Republican Party heads a list of 10 San Diego GOP Central Committee members, including Sherry Hodges, whose campaign Naumann staffed.

The list of those with titles ended with the president of the Oceanside Rotary Club and the former president of the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce. Curiously missing from the entire list were Carlsbad officials.

See a pattern here? If you liked the vicious tactics of the failed Sherry Hodges campaign and don't mind having a political operative with an agenda joining a non-partisan school board with a history of civility, than Naumann's your guy.

And that would be a sad day for Carlsbad schools.

Richard J. Riehl writes from La Costa.

Kelli Moors, who started the current scandal
when she voted on a contract for FFF,
then 12 days later left CUSD to work for FFF


Friday, November 30 [2012]- CSBA [California School Boards Association] Annual Education Conference
Exhibitor Table Talks
Boards, the Brown Act and Cyberspace

As education leaders turn to social media for timely communication, well-intentioned board members can find themselves in violation of the Brown Act when cyber communication conveys information coming up for vote. If used improperly, social media starts the slippery slope into online serial meetings, resulting in costly, embarrassing legal consequences, and can be subject to public records requests. Attend this workshop to learn how to avoid social media pitfalls in your governance capacity.

--Kelli Moors, Board Member, Carlsbad USD; Christopher Keeler and Namita Brown, Partners, Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost, LLP

See all posts about Kelli Moors and Fagen Friedman Fulfrost.

Here are some links to FFF cases:

Palo Alto, FFF and the Office of Civil Rights regarding bullying

FFF loses against teacher Pamela Lukkarila in Jurupa School District:

FFF loses against teacher Ermine Nelson in Jurupa School District

FFF wins against student and parent in Carlsbad School District:

School investigation in Claremont USD a waste of taxpayer money?



Anne M. Zachry said...

Lozano Smith is still practicing special education law and is spearheading an appeal to the US Supreme Court to overturn a recent 9th Circuit decision on behalf of the NSBA that enforces students rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. See

Anne M. Zachry said...

Lozano Smith is still practicing special education law and is spearheading an appeal to the US Supreme Court to overturn a recent 9th Circuit decision on behalf of the NSBA that enforces students rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. See