Wednesday, January 30, 2013

McKee v. Laurion resolved: Online comments about doctors are protected speech, not defamation

It's okay to rate doctors in online reviews.

The Minnesota Supreme Court agrees with Mr. Dennis Laurion that patients and their families have a right to comment on the Internet regarding doctors' behavior. Patients also have the right to report their opinions to medical groups. I don't know what country Dr. McKee thought he was living in. I believe Dr. McKee proved that he has a bad attitude by hounding Mr. Laurion through the courts.

See: Dennis Laurion answers questions.
See: Can you tag your doctor a 'tool' online?
See Doctors Silencing Patients on Thank Heaven for Insurance Companies blog.
Read the decision HERE.

Court: Calling a doctor 'a tool' is protected speech
by Bob Collins
MPR News
January 30, 2013

The Minnesota Supreme Court has thrown out the case against a man for rating a doctor online.

Kenneth Laurion had a stroke in 2010 and was examined in the hospital by neurosurgeon Dr. David McKee in Duluth. Laurion's son found McKee to be "rude and insensitive" during the 20-minute examination.

So he posted the following on some "rate-your-doctor" websites:

My father spent 2 days in ICU after a hemorrhagic stroke. He saw a speech therapist and a physical therapist for evaluation. About 10 minutes after my father transferred from ICU to a ward room, Dr. McKee walked into a family visit with my dad. He seemed upset that my father had been moved. Never having met my father or his family, Dr. McKee said, "When you weren't in ICU, I had to spend time finding out if you transferred or died." When we gaped at him, he said, "Well, 44% of hemorrhagic strokes die within 30 days. I guess this is the better option." My father mentioned that he'd been seen by a physical therapist and speech therapist. Dr. McKee said, "Therapists? You don't need therapy." He pulled my father to a sitting position and asked him to get out of bed and walk.[] When my father said his gown was just hanging from his neck without a back, Dr. McKee said, "That doesn't matter." My wife said, "It matters to us; let us go into the hall." Five minutes later, Dr. McKee strode out of the room. He did not talk to my mother or myself. When I mentioned Dr. McKee's name to a friend who is a nurse, she said, "Dr. McKee is a real tool!" McKee sued for defamation. A district court judge court threw the case out, but an appeals court kept the defamation claims intact.

Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court threw those claims out, too, saying there's no indication they were false, and there does not appear to be any harm to the doctor.

Statement 3 was published as follows: "Dr. McKee said, 'Therapists? You don't need therapy.' " We fail to see how this statement, standing alone, is capable of a defamatory meaning that would harm Dr. McKee in the eyes of the community. By itself, Statement 3 is harmless. Doctors routinely evaluate whether therapy is appropriate for a given patient.

Of particular interest in the case is the debate over whether calling a doctor "a tool" is protected speech.

It is, the court said today:

Referring to someone as "a real tool" falls into the category of pure opinion because the term "real tool" cannot be reasonably interpreted as stating a fact and it cannot be proven true or false.... See Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 U.S. 1, 19-20 (1990). We conclude that it is an opinion amounting to "mere vituperation and abuse" or "rhetorical hyperbole" that cannot be the basis for a defamation action. (explaining that people often engage in name-calling "without any real intent to make a defamatory assertion, and it is properly understood by reasonable listeners to amount to nothing more").

Nonetheless, the assertion that a nurse told Laurion that Dr. McKee is a "real tool" is one of fact because whether a nurse actually made the statement to Laurion is an assertion that can be proven true or false. Dr. McKee argues that Laurion's possible fabrication of the existence of the nurse, and thus the statement attributed to the nurse, creates a genuine issue of fact as to the falsity of Statement 6. As described above, Laurion's assertion that the nurse made the statement to him and the implicit assertion that the nurse exists are susceptible to proof. We nevertheless conclude that even though Statement 6 includes a factual assertion that can be proven true or false, Statement 6 is not actionable because the statement is incapable of conveying a defamatory meaning. First, the part of the statement that can be proven true or false--whether a nurse made the statement to Laurion--does not itself place Dr. McKee in a negative light even if it is false. The assertion that a nurse made the statement only has the potential to cast Dr. McKee in a negative light when combined with the second part of the statement--that Dr. McKee is a "real tool." However, attributing the statement to an unidentified nurse does not add defamatory meaning to the statement.

As a final matter, a review of Laurion's online posting as a whole does not change our holding in this case. Given the reasoning underlying our conclusion that the six individual statements at issue are not actionable, it would defy logic to conclude that the posting, when viewed as a whole, is somehow actionable. Therefore, we reject any argument that the totality of Laurion's statements makes his online posting actionable.

Nonetheless, there's clearly a lesson here regarding posting material online: Be careful.

Jeff Hermes, director of the Citizens Media Law Project at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, told the Associated Press at the beginning of the case that "people who want to post critical reviews should think about whether they can back up their statements. And they can strengthen their position by stating the facts on which their opinions are based."

"The reality is that we bet our house every time that we post content online," Goldman told the AP. "It's a lousy answer from a societal standpoint because we need people to share their experiences so vendors will be punished or rewarded as appropriate."

Comments (4) Wow, if I sued when someone called me a name, people might think I was a real tool! Posted by GT | January 30, 2013 11:01 AM...

Sunday, January 27, 2013

California Teachers Association protects child molesting teacher

The California Teachers Association, and in particular, current Associate Director and Acting Chief Counsel Priscilla Winslow, went beyond the call of duty to defend a child molesting teacher in the Moraga School District. CTA members have a contract that only requires CTA to pay about $20,000 in legal fees when a district wants to fire a teacher. But in this case, one of the head lawyers for the union, Priscilla Winslow, kept on working for the teacher long after she'd done $20,000 worth of work. Perhaps the head office worked on the case so there wouldn't be any large, embarrassing legal bills to show how hard CTA works to protect child molesters.

Priscilla Winslow is acting chief counsel of CTA for the second time. Winslow held that position after Beverly Tucker retired, and again recently when Emma Leheny unexpectedly left that position after less than three years on the job. Perhaps Winslow contributed to her decision to leave?

CTA is shockingly predictable in its protection of child molesters. See the Albert Truitt case and Fred Kamper case. In the Fred Kamper case, the teachers union even helped get Kamper elected to the school board, but parent demonstrations caused him to resign.

Also, see my recent story, "Were CVESD and Chula Vista Educators negligent in Kinloch child molestation case?" I suspect we'll be hearing a lot more about the John Raymond Kinloch case in the coming years.

Moraga teacher kept job for two years after allegations of inappropriate touching of third-graders
By Matthias Gafni
Contra Costa Times

The Moraga School District learned firsthand how difficult firing a tenured teacher can be.

It took 17 months to fire former third-grade teacher Charles Bateman even though an administrative panel ruled he should be terminated for "immoral conduct" and "evident unfitness for service" after it found he touched six girls under their clothing in his classroom in 1993. It took six years before he lost his teaching credential.

Two decades later, the statutory due process laws in California remain largely unchanged.

Bateman was a teacher for 23 years, his final seven at Rheem Elementary School in Moraga. The once popular teacher, now 69 and living in Brentwood, according to public records, taught third grade in the 1992-93 school year.

On Feb. 23, 1993, two parents of girls in his class came forward to Principal Paul Ricciardi after reading of the abuse in a victim's diary. In the end, six girls came forward with most claiming Bateman reached under their shirts to rub their back, stomach and chest areas, and sometimes under the girl's pants waistbands, according to court documents.

Ricciardi appropriately performed his legal "mandated reporting" duties that day and contacted Child Protective Services and Moraga police and Bateman was immediately placed on administrative leave.

The school board voted the next month to fire him, but Bateman appealed. In September 1993, all six girls testified at a hearing at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School before a three-person Commission on Professional Competence panel. Bateman was paid his full salary during the investigation and the California Teachers Association paid his legal bills.

Bateman's defense during the administrative hearings was that he was an affectionate hugger and that any inappropriate touching was unintentional.

Testimony during the hearing also brought out more troubling realizations about retired school administrator Bill Walters, who served as principal of Joaquin Moraga middle school when Bateman taught there. Walters was also entangled in the district's 1990s child sex abuse scandal when he failed to perform his legal mandated reporting duties after learning of another teacher accused of abusing students. This failing, critics say, helped lead to further abuse.

In a 1986 teacher evaluation by Walters, he writes about Bateman: "It is imperative that Chuck use extreme caution with his physical interactions with students so as not to be misinterpreted by the community and the district."

The review referenced a letter sent to Walters from a parent that stated Bateman "engaged in more physical interaction with the girls in his classes than he did with the boys," according to documents released after a public records act request by this newspaper.

Rheem Principal Ricciardi also "cautioned" Bateman on occasions before 1993 "that he should be careful to avoid physical interaction with students, which could be interpreted as being inappropriate," according to commission records.

The administrative appeal ended with the commission voting unanimously to terminate Bateman; however, he petitioned Contra Costa Superior Court to overturn the decision. Bateman's attorney was Priscilla Winslow, who now is acting chief counsel for the California Teachers Association, running the union's legal services division. She did not return a call for comment, nor did Bateman.

Bateman lost his appeal, but he continued to fight the state to keep his credential. It's unclear if he ever taught at another district during his fight while his credential was still valid.

Bateman was never charged with a crime.

Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at

Journey to fire teacher

Feb. 23, 1993: Moraga principal calls police after six girls in Charles Bateman's third-grade class claim the popular teacher touched them under their clothes. He is immediately placed on administrative leave.
March 23, 1993: The school board votes to fire Bateman.
April 16, 1993: Bateman appeals the firing.
September 1993: The girls testify at a hearing at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School before a three-person Commission on Professional Competence panel.
Oct. 26, 1993: The commission votes unanimously to terminate Bateman.
Jan. 12, 1994: Bateman petitions Contra Costa Superior Court to have the decision overturned.
July 29, 1994: Contra Costa Superior Court Judge James Marchiano denies Bateman's request to overturn his firing. He is officially terminated.
Feb. 16, 1995: The parents of the girls are alerted that the state is moving to revoke Bateman's credential.
April 5, 1996: Bateman fights for his credential; parents of children asked if girls could again testify.
March 25, 1999: Bateman's credential is revoked.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A bouquet for the Los Angeles ACLU for caring about education in San Diego; a brick for the San Diego ACLU

The Los Angeles ACLU has been working hard for years for education reform. The San Diego ACLU has actively tried to suppress information about what's wrong with schools.

The San Diego ACLU seems to have some conservative donors who demand that educational issues NOT BE PURSUED in San Diego. I am disgusted with the board of the San Diego ACLU, as well as lawyers David Loy and Kevin Keenan. It seems that their principles are for sale. They all seem to serve as rubber stamps for unknown, powerful paymasters.

Here's some recent evidence of the vigilance of the Los Angeles ACLU.

State Error Led ACLU to Jump on Grossmont Union HS District
“False” report on English learners “reflects a data reporting problem,” says the school district.
By Ken Stone
La Mesa Patch
January 24, 2013

The state Department of Education fed the ACLU bad data, suggests the Grossmont Union High School District in a response to accusations by that and another activist group.

According to a statement released Thursday [attached as PDF], an error in state data led the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center to accuse the district of not giving English-language learners the help they need.

The groups this week sent a letter to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and the state Board of Education, threatening to sue unless English-language classes were provided to non-native speakers in the Grossmont and other districts in compliance with state and federal law.

“Each additional day an EL child goes without language instructional services is another day that child is effectively foreclosed from a meaningful education,” said Jessica Price, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California.

“The children who are neglected today, in schools with no EL services, become the long-term English learners of tomorrow, sometimes struggling their entire school careers without anyone stepping in to make sure they have the tools to learn,” she said.

But the Grossmont district rebutted that idea, saying district data made it look as if 1,300 English-learning students were not getting the help they needed.

“This is false and reflects a data reporting problem,” according to a district statement. “GUHSD will work with the California Department of Education to better align our data to CDE’s classifications.

“The Grossmont Union High School District serves more than 3,300 English Learner students. The 1,300 English Learner students in question are in fact proficient enough to be enrolled in mainstream English classes and receive extra support.”

The four-paragraph statement concluded: “The Grossmont Union High School District has been committed to enhancing and expanding services to our ever-growing English Learner population.”

The ACLU is being contacted for its response.

—City News Service contributed to this report.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Like many other bullies, Lance Armstrong sued a woman for defamation even though he knew she was telling the truth

Lance Armstrong may be sued by Emma O’Reilly, the former masseuse and assistant on the US Postal team
Emma O’Reilly, who was called an “alcoholic whore” by Lance Armstrong, is considering taking legal action against him.
By Brendan Gallagher
20 Jan 2013

O’Reilly, a masseuse and assistant on the US Postal team, suffered the verbal abuse from Armstrong and then the nightmare of a 2½-year lawsuit after she made the revelations about the disgraced cyclist in a 2004 book.

But although she is considering taking legal action against Armstrong, she said on Sunday she was also weighing up whether to show him the compassion he never offered her.

Her dilemma seems to demonstrate that of cycling generally. There is the desire to punish the man for his monstrous behaviour but, at the same time, also a hope that an olive branch will encourage him to tell the complete truth, providing the sport with information it badly needs.

“Sometimes in life you should stand up and be counted and women should not be spoken to, and spoken about in the way he did,” O’Reilly said on Sunday when asked about the legal action she might take...

People shouldn’t be able to speak about other people like that and get away with it. The libel laws in England did protect Lance and they didn’t protect the people telling the truth. That is something that has to be addressed...

Video games weren't cause of Nehemiah Greigo shooting his family

Apparently the link between mass murderer and video games isn't as strong as some people thought. Also, homeschooling doesn't seem to protect children from violent urges, especially when there are guns in the closet.

New Mexico homeschooled teen Nehemiah Griego accused of murdering family...
JANUARY 21, 2013

...Local media said the home schooled teen wasn’t allowed to play video games, and that his family never let him watch violent shows on television.

Sources told the paper the teen had long had murder/suicide fantasies.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Cal State may be mixing public and private funds in nonprofit foundations

Here is a reminder from the past that citizens must be vigilant regarding the finances of even the most apparently benign organizations.

Cal State may be mixing public and private funds in nonprofit foundations
A faculty group says university officials have failed to correct the problems despite warnings.
By Carla Rivera
Los Angeles Times
August 25, 2010

A faculty group said it has found evidence that California State University officials are improperly depositing public funds into the accounts of nonprofit campus foundations and have failed to correct the problem despite warnings from auditors.

The California Faculty Assn. said its findings come from publicly available minutes of meetings of the university's chief administrators and business officers, and raise concerns about possible fiscal mismanagement at more than 90 foundations and auxiliaries associated with the university's 23 campuses.

The documents are included in a report by the group that is scheduled to be released Wednesday.

The nonprofit organizations are separate enterprises that raise private funds for scholarships and other education activities and frequently run campus food services, bookstores and student housing.

Mingling taxpayer dollars and private funds in foundation accounts may be illegal because the organizations are exempt from the state's open records laws, the faculty group says.

"They are admitting to comingling money, taxpayer money and private donations when for all this time, they have stood firm that this is not going on," said Lillian Taiz, president of the faculty organization. "There needs to be some probing and digging into what is going on at these campuses."

The minutes of the discussions by Cal State executives, which are on the university's website, do not cite specific foundations or instances of mismanagement. But they appear to indicate concern about the handling of foundation funds.

On May 18, according to the minutes, Cal State Chief Financial Officer Benjamin Quillian stated: "There continue to be findings from the internal auditors that some campuses have monies held inappropriately by auxiliary organizations....Developing a policy related to this has been more difficult than anticipated."

In an interview, Quillian said he became aware of the findings by the university's auditors about six months ago and has been working with campus groups to insure that funds are transferred to the correct accounts. He said he plans to issue new guidelines in coming weeks.

But he said that the practice was not widespread, did not involve general fund money or student fees and was inadvertent. "To the best of my knowledge, none of the campuses are intentionally sheltering state funds," he said.

Quillian said that Cal State Chancellor Charles Reed has already initiated an examination of campus foundations and auxiliaries to ensure they are being used properly.

This spring, California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown launched a review of Cal State foundations, including one at Cal State Stanislaus, which came under scrutiny after it refused to disclose documents about a June fundraising appearance by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Brown recently concluded that the Stanislaus foundation violated no state laws in managing its funds but found that its accounting procedures were inadequate.

State Sen. Leland Yee (D- San Francisco), who also sought the Palin documents, is sponsoring legislation that would require university foundations and auxiliaries to adhere to state open records laws. The bill has been passed by the Legislature and awaits the governor's signature.

Responding to the report by the faculty association, Yee said he would call for an audit of Cal State finances.

"When you have lobbyists from CSU coming before a state Assembly committee saying that they aren't doing things that they are in fact doing, that's an affront to the Legislature," he said.

Fox News article on evolution of fish into land animals

'Walking' Fish Prompts Evolution Rethink
By Charles Choi
Fox News
December 13, 2011

Air-breathing fish that can hop and walk across the floor on their fins hint that walking may have evolved underwater before such animals began migrating on to land, scientists find.

The distant ancestors of humans and all mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians and other four-limbed animals, or tetrapods, are fish that eventually developed the ability to breathe on land. One of the few living fish related to these ancient land-dwellers are air-breathers known as lungfish, which are found today in Africa, South America and Australia.

Now scientists find that an African lungfish (Protopterus annectens) can lift its body clear off the floor and propel itself forward using scrawny "limbs," abilities previously thought to have originated in early tetrapods.

"This shows us — pardon the pun — the steps that are involved in the origin of walking," said researcher Neil Shubin at the University of Chicago. "What we're seeing in lungfish is a very nice example of how bottom-walking in fish living in water can easily come about in a very tetrapod-like pattern."

The lungfish in question has an eel-like body and a pair of flimsy hind fins. "If you showed me the skeleton of this creature and asked me to make a bet on whether it walks or not, I would have bet it couldn't," Shubin said. "Their fins seem like the furthest thing from walking appendages possible."

The lungfish's history makes them popular pets among paleontologists, and anecdotes and rumors circulated among scientists for years about walking behavior allegedly seen in these strange fish. To uncover the truth behind these stories, the researchers designed a special fish tank in which they could record a lungfish's motions on camera from the side and below for in-depth analysis.

Their videos revealed the lungfish commonly used its hind or pelvic limbs to "bound," moving both limbs at once like one would hop, and to "walk," alternating limb motions. [Video of lungfish walking]

"I find it exciting and surprising that even with such small fins, this lungfish is able to not only propel itself, but lift its body clear offthe bottom as well," researcher Heather King, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, told LiveScience. "If you were to look at just the skeleton of the lungfish, you might never guess that it was capable of this behavior, especially since they don't have feet!" she wrote in an email.

The forelimbs look similar to the hind limbs, but were not involved in such bounding and walking movements. The researchers are not certain why that is, but "it is possible that if the hind limbs alone are sufficient for propelling the fish, the forelimbs would not be used," King said.

The lungfish's ability to support its body on its slim limbs might be aided by their buoyant air-filled lungs, researchers suggest.

"It shows what's possible in an aquatic medium where you don't have to support yourself with gravity," Shubin said.

This discovery might redraw the evolutionary route scientists think life took from water to land. Many of the steps needed to adapt to surface-dwelling could have occurred millions of years before early tetrapods developed limbs with digits and took their first steps on shore, King said.

These findings might also make us rethink whether recently discovered approximately 380-million-year-old tracks were in fact made by early tetrapods. They could have been created by other kinds of fish instead.

King, Shubin and their colleagues detailed their findings online Dec. 12 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Game-designer Jane McGonigle cures her own brain trauma by inventing SuperBetter--and offers the game free

Here is Jane McGonigal's website.

From the SuperBetterwebsite:
"SuperBetter helps you achieve your health goals — or recover from an illness or injury — by increasing your personal resilience. Resilience means staying curious, optimistic and motivated even in the face of the toughest challenges."

Koru Bean

At 3 years old, Koru Bean is the company’s youngest Acting Chief Executive Director of Morale. Koru is triple micro-chipped, enabling him to occasionally receive messages from distant solar bodies and decommissioned military bases. While the language barrier prevents him from translating this information to humankind, his determination remains admirable. His extrafurricular activities include leg-leaping, spinning, and investigating the truth behind research reports on sleep and memory. Koru received his degree from Petsmart Obedience School, and takes all of his compensation in food.

Defamation? Dr. David McKee sues because a patient's son filed complaints with medical boards as well as on Internet

UPDATE: Dennis Laurion wins victory for free speech in Minnesota Supreme Court against doctor who tried to silence him.

Should patients be punished for filing complaints to medical groups?

Doctor's suit tests limits of online criticism
By Maura Lerner (MCT)

Two years ago, Dennis Laurion logged on to a rate-your-doctor website to vent about a Duluth, Minnesota neurologist, Dr. David McKee.

McKee had examined Laurion's father, Kenneth, when he was hospitalized after a stroke. The family, Laurion wrote, wasn't happy with his bedside manner. "When I mentioned Dr. McKee's name to a friend who is a nurse, she said, 'Dr. McKee is a real tool!'" he wrote.

McKee wasn't amused. He sued Laurion for defamation, and now the case is pending before the Minnesota Supreme Court.

McKee, 50, is one of a small number of doctors who have gone to court to fight online critics, in cases that are testing the limits of free speech on the Internet. "Doctors are not used to public criticism," said Eric Goldman, an associate professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law in California, who tracks such lawsuits. "So it's a new phenomenon for them."

While such cases are rare, Goldman said, they've been popping up around the country as patient review sites such as and have flourished. Defamation suits are "kind of the nuclear option," Goldman said. "It's the thing that you go to when everything else has failed."

McKee's lawyer, Marshall Tanick, said the doctor felt he had no choice but to sue to protect his reputation and his medical practice.

"It's like removing graffiti from a wall," said Tanick. He said Laurion distorted the facts -- not only on the Internet, but in more than a dozen complaint letters to various medical groups...

If publisher Tim Crews loses his public records case, we all lose as well

See update of this story HERE.

Newton: Fighting the good fight
If publisher Tim Crews loses his public records case, we all lose as well.
October 15, 2012
Jim Newton
LA Times

The ability of Californians to scrutinize their government may rest on the outcome of a little-known case unfolding in a tiny Northern California town.

It began routinely enough. Tim Crews, the pugnacious, 69-year-old editor and publisher of the Sacramento Valley Mirror, a twice-weekly newspaper that serves Glenn County, filed a request under the California Public Records Act for records held by the local school district. Specifically, Crews was looking for evidence that district officials might have spent public money to influence the outcome of a local election.

District officials did what public officials in California all-too-often do when confronted with a request they don't like. They stalled. At first, they refused to turn over anything. Then they turned over some of the records Crews had asked for, but in a format that made it impossible to search them. And when Crews asked for attachments referred to in some of the emails released in the request, the district refused to hand them over.

Crews is nothing if not dogged. He kept at it, finally persuading a judge to review thousands of the documents in chambers. The judge spent 45 minutes going through the material and then declined, without explanation, to release any more of it.

Up to that point, the case was fairly unremarkable, one of thousands of disputed but ultimately resolved Public Records Act requests that wind their way through public agencies and courts every year. But then the judge in Crews' case, Peter Twede, did something extraordinary: He concluded that Crews' request had been frivolous, and he ordered Crews to pay not only his own legal bills but those of the school district. For the privilege of obtaining documents that were his legal right to have, Crews was ordered to pay more than $100,000, an amount later reduced to $56,000.

If the judgment stands — Crews has appealed — it would have a devastating effect on the newspaper, which only has about 2,800 paid subscribers. "It would wipe us out," Crews told me last week.

It would do more than that. If upheld by the appellate courts, the judgment would radically alter the contours of the Public Records Act in California. Imagine if every time citizens asked for records under the act, they faced the possibility of having to bear not only their own legal expenses but also those that the agency might run up defending itself. Who could afford such risk?

The consequences of Crews' case are so far-reaching that a number of organizations have come to his defense, including the First Amendment Coalition (on whose board I serve without compensation). William T. Bagley, who wrote California's public records law while in the Assembly in the late 1960s, has also filed an amicus brief in support of the editor.

Crews is used to conflict. He went to jail for five days in 2000 for refusing to identify a source. It wasn't so bad, he recently recalled. "I watched a couple movies; wrote some long, long columns." Over the last five years he's filed more than a dozen cases seeking public records or claiming violations of the state's open meetings laws. It's easy to see why some officials are annoyed by him, but he doesn't scare easily.

Still, with the future of his newspaper at stake, Crews is taking the threat seriously. The paper has never missed a publication date in the 23 years he has been there, and it has served as an important watchdog of local government, in the best tradition of community newspapers.

All that is reason enough to be troubled by the action of the judge in the Crews case. But the potential damage to the public extends well beyond Glenn County and even beyond the Public Records Act itself.

If upheld, this ruling would fundamentally reorient the relationship between the people of California and those who represent them. It would require members of the public to put themselves at risk to learn about their own government. It would recast government agencies and elected officials as immune from public scrutiny rather than accountable through that scrutiny.

As the Public Records Act itself states: "The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them." For that reason alone, Crews deserves to win and his paper to survive.

Jim Newton’s column appears Mondays. His latest book is "Eisenhower: The White House Years." Reach him at or follow him on Twitter: @newton_jim.

Florida Adopts Different Standards For Students Based On Race

It seems that Florida teachers should get a cut in pay along with their new achievement goals for kids. As a teacher, I knew how easy it was to improve scores of average and high-performing kids. I knew my real achievement was bringing the kids who were behind up to grade level and above grade level. Kids in middle class families tend to get more intellectual stimulation outside the classroom, including verbal interactions with parents.

Florida is pretty much telling teachers to worry only about Asian, white and Hispanic students, and forget about black students.

Florida has not only given up on equal achievement for all races, it has also given teachers permission to pretty much ignore black students altogether. They not only have lower goals for black students, but they also say that fewer black students need to meet those lower goals!

Florida Adopts Different Standards For Students Based On Race
October 15, 2012

As the Court considers the future of affirmative action in higher education, the Florida State Board of Education is moving to create different grading in schools on the elementary and secondary levels in terms of the levels of proficiency expected for students based on their race.

The plan would set different goals for students in math and reading based upon their race. The plan would expect schools to show that Asian students meet 90 percent to be performing at or above grade level in English and white students would have to meet 88 percent of the goals. However, Hispanics would be expected to meet only 88 percent while black students would be expected to meet just 74 percent of black students.

In math, the schools would need to reach 92 percent of Asian kids to be proficient and 86 percent for white students. Hispanics would be expected to be at 80 percent while blacks would be expected to be at 74 percent.

By lowering the percentages for hispanic and black students, the school officials hope to satisfy federal and state guidelines. However, it also institutionalizes the lower scores for minority groups. It also raises the danger that teachers might push harder with white and asian students to achieve higher levels of performance after achieving lower levels for hispanic and black students. I understand the frustration with these state and federal goals. I also understand the differentials found in the baseline for different communities. However, in my view it is still a mistake. I have long argued for a greater investment in our public school system with additional teachers and better pay for teachers. My wife and I are committed to public schools and send our kids to public schools. We believe strongly in the key role that public schools play not only in socializing children but in society as a whole in having a common educational experience...

27 extra minutes of sleep may make kids better behaved

Click on title below to see video of "Poor sleep linked to bad behavior in children."

27 extra minutes of sleep may make kids better behaved
Michelle Castillo
CBS News
October 15, 2012

Is the secret to good behavior in children a little extra shut-eye?

A new study finds that kids are more likely to be alert and less likely to be disruptive if they added an extra 27 minutes to their nightly sleep schedules.

"In daily life, if you think of the impact of short power naps, usually about 15 to 20 minutes during the day, you can see that this amount of sleep can have a significant positive impact on mood, attention, and well-being," study author Dr. Reut Gruber, director of the attention behavior and sleep lab at the Douglas Institute at McGill University, in Quebec, said to WebMD.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that children ages 5 through 12 get 10 to 11 hours of sleep each day. However, the researchers behind the new study say that most school-aged children don't even get to bed until after 9 p.m., and 43 percent of boys aged 10 to 11 sleep less than the advised nightly amount.

Lack of sleep can cause mood swings, behavioral problems like hyperactivity and cognitive problems, according to the foundation.

Children never sleep as much as experts suggest, study shows

The new study looked at 34 kids between the ages of 7 to 11 who had no sleep, medical, behavior or academic problems who averaged about nine hours of sleep a night. Half the children had their bedtimes moved up one hour and the other children had their bedtimes moved back an hour for five nights. The children wore actigraphs to record their sleep times.

The kids who had their bedtimes moved up an hour slept on average an additional 27.36 minutes longer per night. In comparison, the children who got to sleep an hour later, got about 54.04 less minutes of sleep each night.

Teachers were then asked to record the children's behavior -- including impulsivity, restlessness and emotional ability -- and daytime sleepiness was also measured.

The children who were allowed to sleep more were found to be more alert, better behaved and more empathetic. Those with less sleep were determined to be less alert.

"This opens the door to an effective, feasible way to improve children's health and performance," Gruber told the Toronto Star.

Dr. Dean Beebe, a professor of pediatrics at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, said to HealthDay that the findings made sense. Though he was not involved with this study, he has looked at teen sleeping patterns and its relation to behavior. Beebe pointed out that extra sleep for one night won't make a difference, but a permanent change may help children.

"It's a lifestyle thing, not a quick one-night [change]," he said.

The National Sleep Foundation suggests that if your child is having a hard time falling asleep, keeping TVs and computers out of their room and avoid caffeine may help. In addition, darker, cool and quiet rooms are better for sleep. Parents should also enforce regular and consistent sleeping habits to ensure their child learns healthy sleep habits.

The study was published online on Oct. 15 in Pediatrics and will be in the November 2012 issue.

Community Colleges are so underfunded that students must spend

Community colleges' crisis slows students' progress to a crawl
Thousands of degree seekers are able to enroll in only one class at a time. Hopes of graduating or transferring wither as years pass.
By Stephen Ceasar
LA Times
Oct. 4, 2012

See also California's community colleges staggering during hard times.

The first course Charity Hansen is taking as a freshman at Pasadena City College is a basic class on managing time, speaking up in discussions, setting ambitious goals and then going after them.

If only she could.

It's the only class she managed to get this semester. No math. No English. No science.

"I can't use what I'm being taught yet because I can't get these classes," said Hansen, a 19-year-old from Los Angeles who hopes one day to become a psychologist. "It's frustrating."

Hansen's college education has stalled just as it is beginning. Like thousands of students in California's community college system, she has been reduced to taking one class because there's no room in other classes.

Instead of a full-time load of 12 units, some students are taking three units or even less.

Frustrated students linger on waiting lists or crash packed classes hoping professors will add them later. They see their chances of graduating or transferring diminishing.

It's a product of years of severe budget cuts and heavy demand in the two-year college system. The same situation has affected the Cal State and UC systems, but the impact has been most deeply felt in the 2.4-million-student community college system — the nation's largest.

At Pasadena City College, nearly 4,000 students who are seeking a degree or to transfer are taking a single class this fall. About 63% are taking less than 12 units and are considered part time. The school has slashed 10% of its classes to save money.

The lives of some community college students have become a slow-motion academic crawl, sometimes forcing them to change their career paths and shrink their ambitions.

Mark Rocha, president of Pasadena City College, said California's once-vaunted community college system has never been in such a precarious state.

"It breaks our hearts," he said. "The students who are here, we're desperately telling them 'Don't drop out, don't give up hope. We'll get you through.'"

Since 2007, money from the state's general fund, which provides the bulk of the system's revenue, has decreased by more than a third, dropping from a peak of nearly $3.9 billion to about $2.6 billion last year.

Without enough money, course offerings have dropped by almost a quarter since 2008. In a survey, 78 of the system's 112 colleges reported more than 472,300 students were on waiting lists for classes this fall semester — an average of about 7,150 per campus.

California ranks 36th in the nation in the number of students who finish with a degree or who transfer to a four-year university, according to a February report by the Little Hoover Commission. Many students drop out before completing even half of what is required to earn a typical associate's degree, the report found.

Even for those who persevere, it can take years to graduate — well beyond the two years it once took.

Cinthia Garcia thought she was on the right track. She went straight from high school to El Camino College in Torrance with plans to transfer to a four-year university.

That was six years ago.

"I've been in school forever," said the 24-year-old graphic design major from Compton.

At El Camino, she struggled to get classes, typically landing a spot in only two or three. The art department at El Camino began losing professors and Garcia decided she needed a change.

Pasadena City College, with a respected arts program, was appealing, so she moved to Los Angeles to be closer to school.

Still, she was unable to enroll in more advanced art classes, in part because they also were full.

She emailed every instructor in the art department, searching for a class. One responded. She told Garcia she would help her get the last seat in a Web design class. By then, the class was full, but a few days later, someone dropped the course and Garcia was in.

"All that for just one class," she said, shaking her head.

The crowding has rippled through the school, causing long waits to see academic counselors — an important issue for many community college students who need advice on navigating the sometimes complex requirements to transfer to Cal State, UC or a private university.

At El Camino, Garcia said, the lines to see counselors were hours long. She'd make appointments weeks in advance, never seeing the same advisor twice, she said.

"I tried to do it on my own but I was only able to get so far," she said. "Students are isolated because the counselors have such an overwhelming load."

Garcia said all the delays have made her life harder. She had a full-time job at Ikea, but cut back her hours, hoping the extra time would allow her to power through Pasadena City College.

Over the years, she has shifted her goals from a four-year degree, to a community college associate's degree, and now to a certificate, which requires fewer credits.

That decision could cost her in the long run.

A study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor showed that in 2009, the median weekly earnings of workers with bachelor's degrees was about $1,137 — about a third more than workers with an associate's degree.

Jeffrey MacGillivray attended three community colleges in search of classes and direction.

He started at Los Angeles Harbor College, then tried West Los Angeles College, where he failed to get into any classes, and now he is at El Camino.

This fall, he managed to find a seat in only one academic class — philosophy. He later added a boxing class to fill some mornings.

"I was thinking I can just go to community college, do my two years and transfer," said the 20-year-old Redondo Beach resident. "I had no idea I'd probably end up at El Camino for four years."

MacGillivray has focused much of his attention on trying to play football and run track in community college in hopes of getting a scholarship to a four-year school.

But he has never been able to get enough classes — at least 12 units each semester — to qualify for a team. At El Camino this semester, 98% of class sections are filled to capacity.

"It's really frustrating, having this goal of running track at a university and graduating with a degree," he said. "Junior college is being a bigger obstacle than it should be."

Next semester, MacGillivray may be changing schools again. He was offered a chance to join the Long Beach City College track team — with the possibility that the school could help him get the classes he needs.

For all the trouble, MacGillivray said there is a bright side to his academic wanderings. After two years, he's figured out what he wants to major in — media arts.

And to his surprise, he has discovered that he actually enjoys philosophy.

On a recent afternoon, he listened intently as his professor lectured on ethical relativism — the belief that morality is linked to the social norms of one's culture.

"She's so deep," MacGillivray said of his professor. "I only got one class, so it's pretty cool it was that one."

Under pressure, girls choose paddling by male vice principal over suspension

Texas school OKs opposite sex spankings after principal breaks rule
By Joshua Rhett Miller
September 25, 2012

A Texas school district has decided to change its corporal punishment policy rather than apologize after a male vice principal paddled two high school girls, prompting complaints from their parents.

Board members of Springtown ISD voted unanimously late Monday to change the district’s policy, which now requires a female administrator to be present if a male school official spanks a female student, reports.

A debate over the district’s policy erupted after the mother of two girls attending Springtown High School noticed bruises left behind by the paddling doled out by Assistant Principal Kirt Shaw.

"I did give him permission to swat her,” said Cathi Watts, whose 16-year-old daughter, Jada, suffered bruises on her backside that were visible for more than a week. “I didn't give him permission to bruise her.”

Watts said the marks she saw on her daughter prompted her to call Child Protective Services.

"She told me the story and I looked at her butt and I was floored. The imprint of a paddle, the imprint," Watts said.

Another student at the school, Taylor Santos, 15, allegedly let a classmate copy her homework, prompting Shaw to discipline the girl with a large wooden paddle, which he swung with a violent, upward motion, according to the girl's mom, Anna Jorgensen. “She was telling me it was numb and that it burned,” Jorgensen told on Monday. “And it looked like a burn. She slept on her side that night. She was more humiliated and embarrassed than anything, but the more she and I thought about it, it wasn’t fair and I thought I needed to do something about it.”

Jorgensen told her daughter initially received two days of in-school suspension for allowing another student to copy her work. When she was offered the chance to take a paddling in lieu of the second day of suspension, she submitted. “I really don’t think he had to hit her that hard."

Shaw first had the girl call her mother to approve the punishment, which is required. Jorgensen said she agreed, but had no idea the whack would come from a man — or be so severe. Jorgensen said her daughter, a cross-country athlete who weighs just 95 pounds, was left with large, blistered wounds on her buttocks.

“I really don’t think he had to hit her that hard,” she said. “I’m not saying he went in to intentionally hurt my daughter, but intentional or not, it did happen.” Springtown ISD Superintendent Mike Kelley defended the use of corporal punishment in the school system.

“We only use corporal punishment if the parent or guardian requests it,” Kelley told prior to Monday’s vote. “We have not deviated from that practice.”...

[Maura Larkins comment: The parents didn't request spanking, merely approved their children's choice of spanking over suspension.]

Client's claim against lawyers will be litigated, not arbitrated

C.A: No Arbitration of Debt Action Against Attorneys
Metropolitan News-Enterprise
August 27, 2009

This district’s Court of Appeal yesterday rejected efforts by two Pasadena-area attorneys to compel arbitration of an ex-client’s claim for indemnification of a $25,000 judgment entered against her—based on a breach of a confidentiality provision in a settlement agreement the lawyers had negotiated with her former employer—arising from their firm’s activities to solicit new business.

Div. One’s unpublished opinion by Presiding Justice Robert M. Mallano explained that none of Patricia Dahlstrom’s causes of action against Neil J. Barker and Dale L. Gronemeier were related to their provision of legal services in her wrongful termination case against Litton Data Systems, and therefore the arbitration agreement she had signed was inapplicable to the dispute.

When Dahlstrom retained Gronemeier & Barker in 1991, she had signed a “Professional Services Agreement” which stated that the firm would “provide legal services…concerning [her] employment discrimination, breach of contract, and allied claims against Litton.”

The document also contained an arbitration provision which provided that any controversy or claim “ARISING OUT OF OR RELATED TO THIS AGREEMENT, THE BREACH THEREOF, THE SERVICES RENDERED BY G&B TO CLIENT, OR ANY ALLEGED BREACH OF FIDUCIARY DUTY, FRAUD, NEGLIGENCE OR MALPRACTICE BY G&B” would be submitted to binding arbitration.

Gronemeier & Barker subsequently negotiated a settlement with Litton, obtaining an award for Dahlstrom which Mallano characterized as “substantial.”

This settlement was memorialized in a written agreement containing a confidentiality clause providing that Litton would be entitled to liquidated damages of $25,000 in the event of a breach by Dahlstrom.

In the fall of 1993, Barker allegedly contacted Dahlstrom and asked her to loan the firm $100,000, which she agreed to do.

Under the terms of a promissory note executed Sept. 29, 1993, the money was to be repaid within 12 months at an interest rate of 10 percent per annum.

Dahlstrom claimed that Gronemeier later told her that Litton was claiming she had breached the confidentiality provision of the settlement agreement. She maintained that Litton’s assertion was based on a post-settlement letter sent to Litton employees by Gronemeier in an effort to generate new business for the firm. Litton’s claim was submitted to arbitration, and Gronemeier & Barker represented Dahlstrom in those proceedings. After the arbitrator issued a $25,000 award against her, Dahlstrom said her attorneys promised to indemnify her for that amount. Dahlstrom eventually filed suit against Barker and Gronemeier individually, alleging causes of action for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. Both claims were based on the allegations that Barker and Gronemeier had not repaid the loan nor fulfilled their promise to indemnify her for the arbitration award.

She sought damages of $76,128.61 on each cause of action.

The attorneys answered the complaint and filed a cross-complaint for “unjust enrichment and overpayment of promissory note due to mistake,” claiming they had overpaid Dahlstrom on the note by $2,250. Dahlstrom answered the cross-complaint. Barker and Gronemeier then filed a motion to compel arbitration, insisting that the note had been paid in full, leaving only Dahlstrom’s claims for indemnification and breach of fiduciary duty to be decided.

Those claims, they argued, arose out of their provision of legal services in Dahlstrom’s case against Litton and were therefore subject to arbitration, pursuant to the terms of the Professional Services Agreement.

Dahlstrom filed opposition, including a declaration in which she stated her accounting records indicated the attorneys had not paid off the loan and that she had periodically submitted her accounting records to Barker and Gronemeier reflecting outstanding payments for both the loan and the judgment debt.

In reply, Barker and Gronemeier argued that Dahlstrom had improperly credited a prior payment to the indemnification obligation instead of the loan. If the payment had been properly credited, they contended, the loan would have been overpaid, and the indemnification claim, part of which was still outstanding, had to be arbitrated. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Edward A. Ferns conducted a hearing on the motion to compel in September 2008 and found that none of Dahlstrom’s causes of action were subject to arbitration.

Joined by Justices Victoria Gerrard Chaney and Jeffrey W. Johnson, Mallano agreed with Ferns’ ruling.

As the offending solicitation letter which resulted in the judgment against Dahlstrom was sent “long after” Barker and Gronemeier had settled Dahlstrom’s wrongful termination case and the firm was no longer representing her in regard to that matter, Mallano reasoned that Dahlstrom’s indemnification claim was not based on the provision of any legal service.

“In short, the indemnification claim arose out of and was related to G&B’s own economic interests in obtaining new clients, not any interest the firm was pursuing on Dahlstrom’s behalf,” he wrote.

Mallano also concluded the breach of fiduciary duty cause of action was based on the promissory note and the promise of indemnification, not the legal services rendered to Dahlstrom, and so the arbitration provision did not apply to either of Dahlstrom’s claims.

Elbie J. Hickambottom Jr. of Gronemeier & Associates PC represented Barker and Gronemeier, while Jeffrey A. Lipow of Smith & Lipow represented Dahlstrom. Lipow said he had viewed the case as “kind of a frivolous appeal of a frivolous effort to try and force a case out of the courthouse when clearly the facts didn’t justify that,” remarking that the lesson to be learned from yesterday’s decision was “if you borrow money from your client, pay it off.”

He said that the case is set for trial Sept. 14 but that the parties will be appearing today to stipulate for a continuance to engage in mediation. Hickambottom declined to comment, saying he had not yet reviewed the decision, and neither Barker nor Gronemeier could be reached for comment.

The case is Dahlstrom v. Barker, B211718.

Judge Richard Cline leaves problems behind in San Diego probate court

Judge Richard G. Cline

See case documents HERE.

Jennifer Grant
January 19, 2013

In July 2011 a petition was filed to remove attorney Rusty Grant (no relation to Jennifer Grant) as trustee from the Schwichtenberg Family Revocable Trust. Reasons included expenditures against trust terms, incuding penalties for Rusty's failure to pay property taxes on time, failure to follow trust terms, illegitimate takeover of two subsections of the trust which had become irrevocable prior to the amendment which made Rusty trustee of the other subsection, and severe discrimination against the trustor's daughter Jennifer who had served as her mom's personal assistant and subsequently cared for her during her long battle with breast cancer.

Rusty Grant and Constance Larsen (Rusty’s own attorney, friend and officemate) had served as co-vice-presidents of the North County Bar with the current president back in 2006. Judge Cline made the majority of the decisions while the case was in Vista (when Vista court still had a probate division), including one in violation of federal and state constitutional law. Judge Cline had long standing bar ties with Richard MacGurn, the attorney of Jennifer's disgruntled brother.. Additionally, Rusty was a pro-tem judge in Vista.

In September 2012, with the closure of Vista's probate division, the case was moved to San Diego's Central division where it was inherited by Judge Jeffery Bostwick. Judge Bostwick is an ethical and professional judge. However, most likely due to the huge number of Vista cases dumped on him and the slow wheels of the justice system, he failed to grasp the urgency of the matter before him. He left Rusty Grant and Constance Larsen to continue their reign of fiduciary abuse, mispenditure of trust funds and violations of law unchecked, despite Jennifer filing a motion to suspend the trustee until the court could hear the case. Judge Bostwick denied the motion because it was “not urgent”.

How exactly, if Jennifer prevails, is all the misspent money supposed to get reimbursed?

In the meantime, there is no money available to pay the ongoing expenses of the trust property, so it will likely be lost if there is no intervention before the case can go to trial. Since Constance Larsen has illegally denied Jennifer the right to be in the property, it sits neglected and further deteriorating.

When Jennifer sought help from the California state fiduciary abuse organization, she was told that they could not touch attorneys though it sounded like Constance Larsen and Rusty Grant had committed crimes. Was there any other category of fiduciary out of their jurisdiction? The answer was “no”. So basically, they were saying if you are an attorney in California, you can break the law with no repercussions.

Both attorneys were also reported to the State Bar. How much their own North County Bar connections may have weighed in is unknown. However the complaint was closed. Jennifer received a letter which basically stated that, while her complaint might have merit, that the Bar could not get involved because there was a civil case in court.

The county DA was contacted but said a police report must first be filed. Since Constance Larsen forbids Jennifer to be in the property left her, there is a pending issue with the police as to who has jurisdiction to take the report.

In the latest incident, Constance Larsen tried to create a circumstance of double jeopardy by filing an accounting petition which contained issues already under contest in the case's other three petitions.

See pleading: Objections to Accounting Petition

Judge Cline allowed Rusty to conduct the forensic accounting ahead of trial on the contested petition where the question of who should conduct the accounting was at issue. Constance Larsen was blatantly trying to press her luck twice to get rid of the Remove Trustee petition and get fees for herself and further ones for Rusty.

This was an attempt to violate Jennifer's constitutional right to due process (US constitutional 14th amendment and California Constitution Section I Article I) as it had been in the circumstance with Cline.

Fortunately Judge Bostwick listened to Jennifer's due process argument on the Accounting Petiton and thwarted Larsen by consolidating it with the three other pending petitions putting it on the same civil justice snail track. However, if one takes a look at the objections he asked Jennifer to file, one can get a small taste of what is being allowed to continue by the State Bar as well as an overburdened, inefficient justice system here in San Diego. To top it off, as can be seen from Jennifer's objections, and looking at the exhibits, Constance Larsen and Rusty Grant have made false statements, committing perjury, when they signed their petitons. The question remains, are attorneys above the law? If not, then how can they be held accountable and by whom?

(Case # 37-2011-00150239-PR-TR-NC)

Monday, January 14, 2013

South Bay Diners' Club: Is SDCOE any less corrupt than indicted board members?

I suggest that the Reader be more vigilant about nasty personal comments. And I agree with the commenters who say, "Welcome back, Susan Luzzaro!"

See comments below with my notes attached.

Documents hint at Sweetwater board’s diners’ club
High school student investigated 10 years ago
By Susan Luzzaro
San Diego Reader
Jan. 11, 2013

The latest round of indictments handed down by San Diego’s criminal grand jury is so extensive, people wonder if corruption is just another name for South Bay. Fifteen defendants from three separate South Bay school districts, a construction company CEO, and a bond financier face 256 charges.

In the case of the Sweetwater Union High School District board, four current trustees — James Cartmill, Bertha Lopez, Pearl Quiñones, Arlie Ricasa, and former trustee Gregorio Sandoval — will be arraigned on charges on January 30. The district’s former superintendent Jesus Gandara will also be arraigned on that day.

By now many people have read about the lavish meals South Bay trustees and school administrators enjoyed at the contractor’s expense. Given what we know about Sweetwater in particular, maybe it’s time to ask if dining out is endemic to the district culture.

Document--Ed Brand’s calendar, January 29, 2001–February 2, 2002
Document--Ed Brand’s district credit-card receipts, July 2000–October 2003

Well before he was indicted, the U-T was reporting on former superintendent Gandara’s dining habits. According to a May 2011 article, Gandara, before having his district credit card yanked, “had charged more than 300 meals to taxpayers over three years, even though his contract paid him $800 a month for expenses.”

The same article tells us: “Some $12,560 was charged to Gandara's district credit card for 366 meals from November 2007 to March 16, when he stopped using it.

“The most common meal partners for Gandara were members of the school board, who took part in 238 of the meals.

“Trustee Arlie Ricasa dined with the superintendent 92 times, followed by trustee Pearl Quiñones at 49 times. Former trustee Greg Sandoval met with Gandara 41 times, according to the records, while trustee Jim Cartmill met with him 38 times and Bertha Lopez met with him 11 times.

“Newly appointed board member John McCann appears seven times, including once as a Chula Vista councilman before his job on the school board.”

Gandara justified his use of the credit card by saying that without it “community members would have to come to the district office for coffee or water instead of being treated to restaurants.”

Many people in the South Bay wonder why taxpayers pay for administrative offices that are not the setting for business meetings — whether with trustees or contractors.

But Gandara did not invent the fine art of dining out.

In 2002, a Sweetwater student began investigating the district. Gordon Siu was a reporter for his Bonita Vista High School paper. In a January 9 interview, Siu, a 2010 Yale graduate, said he began to get a sense that the district administration “was doing things the wrong way.” It appeared to Siu that “the trend was that these officials were more concerned with making themselves look good than they were with education.”

Before Siu graduated from Bonita Vista in ’06, he put in two public record requests: one for then-superintendent Ed Brand’s calendar and the other for Brand’s credit card receipts spanning 2000–2003. (Brand was superintendent of Sweetwater from 1995–2005. He returned to Sweetwater on the heels of Gandara’s buyout in June 2011.)

When he received the record, Siu was taken aback when he saw that Brand ate out almost every day and sometimes twice a day. Siu wondered: “When did he have time for students and teachers?”

Looking at the South Bay scandal today, Siu commented, “I tried to tell everyone years ago what was going on.”

[Maura Larkins comment: I hear you, Gordon. I tried, too.]


...oskidoll Jan. 11, 2013 @ 3 p.m.

Perhaps NOW the County Board/Office of Education might pay attention? 15 indictments, including at least 3 for extortion, should certainly bring the South County education establishment messes to the attention of the body that is supposed to oversee operations, especially fiscal matters, of the school districts in their jurisdiction. The next meeting of the [SD]COE will feature the seating of the new representative from District 2, Lyn Nealon. It will be Wednesday, January 23 at 6 p.m. Perhaps she will be more responsive to matters in South County than the prior representative.

By the way, I see an interesting entry in Brand's old calendar: a meeting with Sandoval and Rudy Castruita, the former CEO of the CBOE [also known as SDCOE]. Castruita now pulls down a handsome STRS pension in his retirement, perhaps the highest in the entire county. Seems that Dr. Granger Ward [correction: Randolph Ward], his successor, should be doing something for his pay.

[Maura Larkins note: SDCOE has some issues of its own. Rodger Hartnett's lawsuit included information about the SDCOE Diners Club at the Rancho Bernardo Inn. Many people are alarmed by the actions of Dan Puplava and Diane Crosier. Randy Ward and the SDCOE board allow Crosier to conceal the gifts she receives.]

timtim Jan. 11, 2013 @ 5:49 p.m.

Wow Bertha Lopez indited on 19 counts and Susan writes about Ed Brands lunch schedule from 10 years ago? I smell a Pulitzer for this Hack

angrybirds Jan. 14, 2013 @ 10:25 a.m.

...Hey wow, I think this timtim sounds like McCann or Grossman two Republicans pouting because they didn't get their way in the elections.

[Maura Larkins note: Many Democrats disapprove of corruption on the part of Democrats. I have said for years that Bertha Lopez is corrupt, but I believe that the small-time skimming of these defendants is not the worst kind of corruption in our schools. I would have voted for Lopez if I lived in her district because I think she was the lesser evil.

As for serious corruption, I believe that SDCOE corrupted Lopez (and almost all board members in the county) more than any contractor did.

Guess who helped direct Bertha Lopez' actions when she first became a board member of CVESD?

None other than former and current SUHSD Superintendent ED BRAND!!!

He was on SDCOE's Legal Services Council and was also a regional chair of ACSA, so he is doubly responsible for travesties like the Mary Ann Weegar case in Sweetwater and is also partially responsible for my case at CVESD. I was fired, in part, for filing grievances and a lawsuit. The other part was that I refused to come to work until an investigation was done. Here's how my case started. The "investigation" was never completed.

Why not, Bertha Lopez?

For some reason, the teachers union doesn't like to talk about my case, and, perhaps as a result of that, the Reader won't write about it. The teachers union clearly didn't want an investigation in my case because it would have exposed crimes by Robin Donlan, a friend of CVE President Gina Boyd.

SDCOE's JPA sent instructions to school boards through representatives. One of the instructions is "Deny all claims." Patrick Judd was SDCOE's representative at CVESD when Bertha arrived. Judd, Larry Cunningham and Pamela Smith had control of the board, and Bertha went along with them. Also, CVESD Superintendent Lowell Billings was on the Superintendents' committee that directed how lawsuits would be handled.

White Chalk Crime is the term coined by Karen Horwitz for what is going on in many schools and county boards of education. It seems to be thriving here in Enron by the Sea.]


[Maura Larkins note: Why does the Reader publish comments attacking a person's height and weight and calling names??? Is anyone at the Reader actually reading the comments?

I am not happy to see teachers and other adults ridiculing a student (timtim) and commenting on his chances of academic success. Why not say something to reach out to him and offer a bit of information that he can absorb with his current mind set? That's what a good teacher would do.

I am appalled that an adult would make fun of a person's size and a teacher would resort to name-calling of students. Appalled, but not at all surprised. It's what I heard in the teachers lounge for decades. Often, these same teachers punish children for bullying behavior. But students report that this bullying by teachers takes place inside classrooms, too. What are kids supposed to take away from such mixed messages?]

Here is a separate Reader article in which supporters of teacher/board member Bertha Lopez verbally attack a young person who wants to be a teacher.

Some of the comments are included here:

timtim Jan. 11, 2013 @ 5:52 p.m.

It was pretty simple....sorry it sailed over your head,and no I am not a learning center packet checker wanna be teacher like the rest of you

Visduh Jan. 11, 2013 @ 9:05 p.m.

Eastlaker, I was waiting for someone to take timtim to task for his poor spelling, poor grammar, lack of punctuation, and generally not knowing the conventions of typing, such as a space after the comma and . . . In a couple previous go-rounds our pal anniej would do that, but you've done it well. If I can get past all the language challenges, timtim seems to be saying...

And, timtim, I'm not a wanna-be teacher (note punctuation), I am a teacher with a heck of a lot better language skills than you will ever have, even it you live a century.

eastlaker Jan. 11, 2013 @ 10:36 p.m. [In the comments in the "Diners Club" article at the top of this post, eastlaker also makes fun of Ed Brand's former girth.]

I guess we will have to add unfamiliarity with the correct use of tense. As in present, past, future, etc.

Pretty sure timtim wouldn't be able to pass the high school exit exam if this is all s/he is capable of.

Visduh Jan. 13, 2013 @ 9:01 p.m.

If timtim doesn't want to take hits for grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax and a host of other language skills, then he should clean up his act and make his message clear. It isn't just his sloppy typing that misses the mark, it is that his comments seem all but incomprehensible.

jibaro Jan. 14, 2013 @ 4:10 a.m.

Visduh, I think you were my 10th grade English teacher ! :} :} :}

[Visduh has indeed mentioned being a teacher. Jibaro seems to be a subtle, humorous person.]

anniej Jan. 11, 2013 @ 10:24 p.m.

Tim Tim: according to one of your high school teachers you were a puts as a teenager, and have grown up to be an older, even though not bigger putts. Could it be that the net has not been pulled all of the way in? Might there be more fish? Hmmmmmmmmm

[Maura Larkins note: I think it's spelled "putz". I'm not a stickler for precise spelling, but I thought you'd like to know. It's Yiddish.]

jibaro Jan. 12, 2013 @ 4:39 a.m.

Sorry to see Tim Tim taking hits for grammar, spell, etc. Open season for his positions. That having been said, I will note that Dr. Brand does what the majority of the Board allows him to do. Three votes, they all understand three votes on a five member board.


anniej Jan. 11, 2013 @ 4:20 p.m.

Ms. LUZZARRO: When the South Bay thinks of reporting the news The Reader and you are what we think of. Not sure where you went, hopefully you were having fun, but hip hip hooray YOU ARE BACK!!!!!!!

Visduh Jan. 11, 2013 @ 4:01 p.m.

Susan, we have missed you. When one round of new indictments was announced, I expected a report and there was none. Then the following day five more were indicted, and I was sure you would report. Hope you are back and on the job doing what you do so well, keeping us up to date on this ongoing scandal.

VigilantinCV Jan. 12, 2013 @ 11:28 a.m.

OMG! So glad you are back, Susan Luzzaro. Your voice in the South Bay is invaluable to those of us who want to know the hard facts. Thank you, Susan and The READER.

dbdriver Jan. 11, 2013 @ 8 p.m.

By the way, thank you Susan, for once again bringing such information to light.

erupting Jan. 11, 2013 @ 2:51 p.m.

Out of the mouth of babes as the saying goes. Here is a past student that was aware of the culture of Sweetwater way before any of us. Wow this article is a real eye opener. Brand was feeding at the trough long before Gandara came and longer. Someone told me that he also bought his rental car that we supplied him for the time he was with us at a generous discount. Does anyone know about this? Glad to hear from you Susan Luzzaro.

jibaro Jan. 11, 2013 @ 4:15 p.m.

Susan, great to have you back!

anniej Jan. 11, 2013 @ 4:30 p.m.

Jlbaro: Off topic, but in Ms. Luzzaro's absence I was trolling thru some of her old articles and found I had missed a reply you made to me regarding one of the board members. PLEASE KNOW, my comments were not aimed at you. I was speaking of someone else.

susan Jan. 12, 2013 @ 12:57 p.m.

Gordon Siu, we must admit, was a remarkable student and journalist and continues to contribute to the community. He has his own website which contains other pieces of journalism related to the school district which may interest those who follow the subject. Thanks for your work, Gordon.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

UPDATED: Arraignments of fifteen defendants connected with South Bay schools

See all posts regarding South Bay school indictments.



1) Civil lawsuit against the district
Jeff McDonald of the Union-Tribune reports on Jan. 15, 2013: "An $18 million lawsuit against the San Ysidro School District has been pushed back by at least three months because a key witness — Superintendent Manuel Paul — is facing criminal corruption charges.

Judge Steven Denton agreed to the delay after the district’s lawyer said Paul planned to invoke his constitutional right against self-incrimination and refuse to answer any more questions in depositions.

“Mr. Paul has been indicted, and I am informed and believe that the superintendent will be asserting the Fifth Amendment on every question posed,” attorney Arthur Palkowitz wrote in a motion to the judge...

2) San Ysidro school board decisions:
B San Ysidro School District parents forced the school board on Jan. 16, 2013 to reject a plan to pay $100,000 each for Manuel Paul's and Yolanda Hernandez' criminal legal defense. (Of course, Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz is still being paid to work with Mr. Paul regarding the civil case mentioned above.) The board also reversed its Jan. 8, 2013 decision NOT to put Mr. Paul on administrative leave.


I was surprised to see ubiquitous school attorney Gil Abed at the criminal court yesterday for the arraignment of fifteen individuals connected with three South Bay school districts.

Lawyers from Mr. Abed's law firm, Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz, generally restrict themselves to the civil courthouse one block west.

Apparently San Ysidro taxpayers were paying Mr. Abed to sit next to San Ysidro Schools Superintendent Manuel Paul, providing moral support. Mr. Paul didn't have to testify, so he didn't need his lawyer to prepare him for testifying. In fact, Mr. Abed is Mr. Paul's civil attorney and wasn't directly involved with the arraignment proceedings.

Channel 10 News reports that the San Ysidro school board has shown remarkable generosity to Mr. Paul recently. Shortly after it was revealed that he'd accepted $2,500 cash from a contractor, they gave him a $10,000 raise! I trust that this isn't hush money. The day after his arraignment, the trustees announced that Mr. Paul's job is safe--for now, at least. Board member Yolanda Hernandez, a fellow defendant of Manuel Paul, was not at the January 8, 2013 board meeting.

The highlight of the event
for me was watching the arraignment
of former CVESD board member, and current Sweetwater Union High School District trustee, Bertha Lopez.
Bertha has provided a continuous stream
of fodder for my blogs for many years. Bertha and her fellow CVESD board members channeled a large number of dollars to Dan Shinoff of Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz for civil court legal work when she was a CVESD board member.

I think that the type of corruption being dealt with in these indictments is penny-ante stuff.  There are much bigger problems that should be dealt with.

The real corruption is not so obvious. It's dressed up in legal language. Judges and juries often let the education establishment get away with running a corrupt system because no one likes to pick on schools.

The things that go on at San Diego County Office of Education are shocking, but no one except Jerry Rindone ever complains about it. SDCOE even approves indemnification of their lawyers, a rare policy that was much criticized when Otay Water District indemnified Jaime Bonilla.


San Ysidro Schools employee Jimmy Delgado provided some drama after the hearing by aggressively pointing his finger in the face of Alex Anguiano, president of Sweetwater Education Association, and threatening to sue him if he said anything untrue about Delgado. Apparently Mr. Delgado was angry that Mr. Anguiano (and the large group of Sweetwater teachers accompanying Mr. Anguiano) were NOT supporting Pearl Quinones. The teachers were quite miffed with the arraigned board members and with former superintendent Jesus Gandara, another defendant.

UPDATE: The San Diego Reader has a video of the last few seconds of the encounter. The Reader reports that Jimmy Delgado heads the Latino Political Action Committee of San Diego, which contributed $1000 to Pearl Quiñones in the last election. Ironically, just a few months ago Jimmy Delgado was in court testifying on behalf of Sweetwater board member John McCann's unsuccessful effort to get a restraining order against parent Stewart Payne. Ed Brand says the taxpayers paid about $2,400 for that effort, but others estimate that the cost was over three times that amount. (See the short account of the TRO hearing at the bottom of this post.) Delgado testified that Payne “...aggressively pointed his finger in McCann’s face.” McCann thought this behavior warranted a restraining order, but the judge did not agree.

Indictments Rain Down Across South Bay
By Wendy Fry
Jan 7, 2013

More defendants have been snagged in the District Attorney's corruption probe into South Bay school construction projects.

The San Diego Superior Court docket for Monday lists a 2 p.m. appearance date for 15 defendants in the criminal probe. The corruption investigation has expanded in recent days to include new defendants from those originally charged with criminal complaints last year.

The defendants are current and former school officials, elected trustees, and contractors who did work at San Ysidro schools, the Sweetwater school district and Southwestern College. Many have already entered "not guilty" pleas on prior and identical complaints, including Gandara, Sandoval, Ricasa and Quiñones.

The Grand Jury began meeting in early November in a major "pay-to-play" public corruption case that now stretches across three South Bay school districts.

Prosecutors say the school officials traded their votes on multi-million dollar construction contracts for gifts and other favors.

Those who are scheduled to appear in court to be arraigned on indictments include:

Financier Gary Cabello, 53, who did work at both Southwestern College and Sweetwater. Cabello's home and former offices were raided in May 2012. As an underwriter, Cabello was tasked with calculating the size of the bond measure and the tax rate needed to finance the Sweetwater school district's wish list of building projects. His company, Alta Vista contributed $25,000 to the campaign to get the Sweetwater bond measure approved by voters, and then won a contract underwriting the bond. Cabello later worked for Cabrera Capital Markets, LLC., which had a contract with Southwestern College for financing on Proposition R bond funds. He could not be reached for comment, but his attorney said on Dec. 28 that she had not received any documentation that her client had been indicted by the Grand Jury.

Current Sweetwater trustee Jim Cartmill, the CEO of a nutritional supplement company. Cartmill received a $20,000 campaign contribution from a company doing work with the Sweetwater school district. The donation was allegedly procured by then-Superintendent Dr. Jesus Gandara while Cartmill and Gandara were on a trip to Mexico with others, according to court documents. Current Superintendent Dr. Ed Brand was an investor in Cartmill's company, according to bankruptcy documents with the Securities Exchange Commission. Messages left on Cartmill's voicemail since Dec. 28 have not been returned.

Jeff Flores, the president of Seville Construction Services, a construction firm that won a $2.7 million contract to do work under Southwestern College's Proposition R. Court records show Flores had an inside track working with Southwestern College officials on the project before it was officially bid. Some emails in the court affidavits indicate the contractor was allegedly involved in writing the request for proposals, or bidding documents for the college official. The court records also show he wrote the interview questions for the screening process. Flores' company has released repeated statements about the situation, including: "We believe SCS has operated and acted in good faith throughout our relationship with the (Southwestern College) district, including the termination of an employee a year ago for inappropriate actions that included violation of our corporate code of conduct. We believe the independent actions of individuals previously involved in the program are negatively affecting both organizations and the community.”

Former Sweetwater Superintendent Dr. Jesus Gandara. In 2006, Sweetwater trustees Jim Cartmill and Arlie Ricasa flew to Texas to interview Gandara for a position at the recommendation of the head-hunting firm Hazard, Young and Attea & Associates. His rocky tenure included borrowing bond money to pay off daily general fund expenses; inviting contractors to a "money tree" event for his daughter's bridal shower; hiding PR expenses from the board and a controversial exit strategy under investigation by state pension regulators. Prosecutors say he and several other board members spent night after night at expensive meals, sporting events, and trips, funded by contractors seeking work with the district. He has pleaded not guilty.

Current San Ysidro board member Yolanda Hernandez. Hernandez was the alleged recipient of a $2,500 cash drop-off made by a contractor to the San Ysidro Superintendent Manuel Paul in a restaurant parking lot. She also pays the majority of her campaign funds to a company she owns, according to state documents. She has declined repeated requests for comment.

Sweetwater trustee Bertha Lopez whose home was raided December 2011. Lopez was an early whistleblower, alerting officials to the corruption in the South County school districts. She was re-elected in November to her seat.

San Ysidro Superintendent Manuel Paul is listed in court documents accepting meals from contractors and dining with Sweetwater Superintendent Gandara. He also admitted in a June deposition to accepting thousands in cash from a contractor in a Chula Vista restaurant parking lot.

Sweetwater trustee Pearl Quiñones, 59, was an educator in the San Ysidro School District. Quiñones was also re-elected to her seat in November with strong support from Mayor Bob Filner. The long-time National City resident is listed in court documents for dining at expensive meals and allegedly soliciting a paid position on a state commission in 2006 from a contractor working for the district. She has entered a "not guilty" plea.

Sweetwater trustee Arlie Ricasa, 48, works as an administrator at Southwestern College. Court papers show Ricasa contacted a Sweetwater construction contractor with her college email account to arrange a $3,900 campaign contribution for a state Assembly bid. The contractor, Rene Flores, pleaded "no contest" in April 2012 to a misdemeanor of aiding in the commission of a misdemeanor. Ricasa also asked Flores to fund her daughter's $1,800 trip to the National Young Leaders State Conference, and did not disclose the gift on state-mandated forms, the court records show. She has pleaded not guilty.

Former Sweetwater trustee Greg Sandoval, 58, also worked at Southwestern College as an administrator. He served on the Sweetwater school board for 16 years until 2010. According to court records Sandoval allegedly asked a business development executive working for a Sweetwater district contractor to pay $500 to enter Sandoval's daughter in a Miss South County pageant. The prosecutor's affidavit used to obtain a search warrant at Sandoval's home states Sandoval “had his hand out asking for gifts or donations so often, even employees from SGI remarked that he ‘has no shame.’” He has entered a "not guilty" plea.

Former Southwestern college official Nicholas Alioto, 47, resigned in 2011 amid controversy after the UT San Diego reported on a Napa Valley trip with a construction contractor who weeks later won $4 million work with the district. When the search warrants were served in December 2011, Alioto was found living in the guest house of the Poway home of that contractor. Alioto has entered a "not guilty" plea.

Former Southwestern Superintendent Raj Chopra was brought to Southwestern College in 2007 by the same head-hunting firm that found Gandara for the Sweetwater district. In the wake of state budget woes, Chopra enraged the South Bay community college employees with deep budget cuts. He also presided over the passing of Proposition R, a $389 million bond measure for school construction. There are only scarce mentions of Chopra in the D.A.'s affidavits served in 2011. However, an internal college probe found commingling of funds between the bond campaign and the college's general funds.

Former Southwestern trustee Jorge Dominguez. Dominguez said on Dec. 28 he was unaware he had been indicted by the Grand Jury. He added he declined an invitation to provide testimony during the Grand Jury proceedings, after advice of an attorney.

Former Southwestern trustee Yolanda Salcido. Salcido was a political rival of Dominguez. Her romantic involvement with Southwestern official John Wilson was the subject of a citizen's Grand Jury report several years ago.

Southwestern official John Wilson recommended Seville Construction Services receive the $2.7 million construction management contract in 2009, and then went to work for the company a couple months later.

Last year, three contractors who did work at Southwestern and Sweetwater pleaded to lesser misdemeanor charges and agreed to cooperate with investigators. They were: business development executive Henry Amigable; contractor Rene Flores, and an architect Paul Bunton.

One year ago:

When the Trouble Started for Sweetwater Schools
Rob Davis
Voice of San Diego
January 23, 2012

...investigators have searched the home of Bertha Lopez, a Sweetwater trustee whose husband, Jose, is the Otay Water District's president. They've also searched the homes of two former Southwestern College officials, Nicholas Alioto and John Wilson.

Investigators have interviewed the mayors of Chula Vista and National City, county supervisors and a San Diego city councilman. Jaime Bonilla, another Otay Water District board member, is also mentioned in search warrants; Bertha Lopez and Seville employees had an appointment to dine at his house...

Concerned parents routinely went to board meetings throughout 2009 and 2010, criticizing the board for its oversight of construction spending and for accepting campaign donations from companies working for the district. One parent, Stewart Payne, said he thought the board's behavior was strange enough that he went to the FBI in early 2011. Then he and other parents went to the district attorney.

"I just said: Something's wrong here, I don't know what it is, but something's not making sense," Payne said. "Something was just wrong."

Sweetwater Activist Cleared of Allegations Made by Boardmember
By Susan Luzzaro
San Diego Reader
May 10, 2012

...Jimmy Delgado, an employee of the San Ysidro Elementary School District, provided a witness statement for McCann. According to Delgado, [Stewart] Payne “...aggressively pointed his finger in McCann’s face.” Delgado's description of Payne's gestures agree with Payne’s formal response.

Payne says he backed away from McCann’s advances that night: “I had retreated so far that I could feel other people on my heels…. At this point I became concerned that Mr. [John] McCann was becoming irrational and intending to do me harm. It is at this point that I extended my hand pointing my finger to establish my personal boundary and told him not to come closer or I would protect myself.”

Payne, who defended himself during the May 9 proceedings, said, “Have you ever seen anyone who was going to hit someone with their finger?”

McCann was represented by an attorney at the hearing. According to a May 10 U-T report, “Sweetwater superintendent Ed Brand approved the legal expense. He said the affair may cost the school district around $2,400 in attorney’s fees for McCann.”...

[Maura Larkins note: I've heard other estimates of the amount of money Sweetwater spent to intimidate Mr. Payne in the $8000 to $9000 range. Ed Brand has a habit of spending outrageous sums on lawyers. See articles on Sweetwater lawyer Bonny Garcia] (who appears in documents supporting board member indictments).]