Tuesday, March 11, 2008

OUSD Lawsuit Costs Top $315,000

Defense against parents’ claim likely to rise to $350,000

By Daryl Kelley
The consortium that insures the Ojai Unified School District against legal claims has paid about $315,000 to defend the district against a lawsuit by parents who claimed their children were harassed after they complained about profanity and sexual content in a book.
The tab is still mounting, officials said, and could reach $350,000 by the time all legal bills are paid.
The parents dropped their claim last month, three days into trial and nearly three years after they filed it amid a bitter controversy that divided the San Antonio School community.
Plaintiff Jeff Luttrull said he and his wife, Rosalyn, spent at least $100,000 pressing their case before abandoning it because judges had thrown out eight of its nine counts and its scope was so small it could have no real effect.
This week, the tiny Ojai school district confirmed just how much time and money had been spent by the defense.
The district released documents to the Ojai Valley News showing that the Ventura County Schools Self Funding Authority, a consortium of 21 local districts that pools money as insurance against lawsuits, had already paid $314,890 in legal fees and other expenses.
That total does not count legal bills for February, which include trial preparation and three days of trial.
“It won’t be until April that all the bills from lawyers and expert witnesses come in, but they say definitely at least $30,000 is still un-billed,” said Dannielle Pusatere, the district’s superintendent for business and administrative services.
Of the services billed so far about $274,000 have been paid to Oxnard-based Nordman Cormany Hair & Compton, the county’s largest law firm, while about $28,500 has gone to Goleta-based Gregory B. Bragg & Associates, a claims and risk management company.
Pusatere said officials do not know yet whether the suit will cost the district more in annual insurance premiums, because the district’s payment is based on losses by all 21 school districts each year. The overall fund may have done well despite spending $350,000 over three years on this case, she said.
“The premium depends on how all 21 districts do,” Pusatere said. “They say they have a pretty good fund balance in the pool right now, so they can’t really say what the change is going to be, if any.”
Typically, the Ojai district pays $140,000 to $150,000 a year in premiums for property and liability insurance, she said.
School Board President Steve Fields said he wished the district hadn’t spent a penny on the case, but that fighting the suit was the right thing to do.
“There are times when we need to stand up and say we think the accusations are wrong and we need to defend ourselves,” he said. “One reason we have insurance is to be able to do that.”
The district’s lawyers thought the case would be dismissed early and cost little, Fields said. But a pair of negligence counts stuck through federal and state courts until last month, when a Superior Court judge threw out one of the two just before trial.
“I think if we would have settled to save money,” Fields said, “we would have been criticized for just settling to have it go away.”
Superintendent Tim Baird, a defendant in the case, said the district could not settle, because the plaintiffs insisted that veteran teacher Linda McMichael be removed for allegedly retaliating against their children for complaining about a book she assigned to counter playground bullying.
Nonetheless, Baird has called the suit a huge waste of time and money. Not included in the documented costs was time lost from their jobs by McMichael, Baird and school principal John LeSuer in battling the case. When McMichael was absent, her class was guided by a substitute teacher.
“They wanted Linda’s removal or firing and that just wasn’t justified,” Baird said Tuesday. “The settlement they offered was basically throwing Linda to the wolves, and I wasn’t going to do that.”
Luttrull, an eye surgeon, said Tuesday that he considered the case a waste of money since the district could have settled early at little expense. But he said it was worth the $100,000 he spent if the district learned to be more responsive to parent concerns.
Luttrull said he tried to end the suit in its early stages, offering to settle for $5,000 in his legal fees, a letter of apology to parents whose children were in McMichael’s class, a directive to district teachers that the state education code says classroom materials should be “age appropriate” and training teachers on what is appropriate.
Luttrull acknowledged that he also asked that McMichael be removed from her classroom, although he never asked that she be fired.
“With the teachers’ union, you can’t do that,” he said. “And her removal was not essential. That wasn’t a deal-breaker. We just wanted to see them accept some responsibility for what had happened, but instead we were just told to get lost.”
He also said another of his children was in fourth grade at San Antonio and he wanted to make sure she did not get McMichael as a teacher the following year.
Jonathan Light, lawyer for the district, said that his clients never received a formal settlement offer from the parents, nor did the district formally offer to settle.
The district maintained throughout that it responded promptly to the parents’ concerns: McMichael withdrew the offending book immediately and apologized to the children and parents, and Baird assured the parents in a lengthy meeting a week later that district policy would be changed to require screening of supplemental materials in classes.
Indeed, the educators thought the issue was resolved until three weeks later at the meeting with Baird.
Then, Luttrull distributed fliers with passages from the book to parents as they came and left San Antonio, and then pressed his case before the school board.
The spring 2005 dispute tore the tight-knit San Antonio School community apart, with one side calling for McMichael’s removal and the other saying she was being bullied by overly protective parents.
Parents of three girls removed them from the school after a series of events they said harassed their children.
The parents filed a lawsuit in September 2005, claiming negligence and retaliation by school officials and a violation of the students’ and parents’ civil rights. Of the nine original counts, judges reduced the case to the single negligence claim. Parents of the third child had already dropped out of the lawsuit.
The remaining plaintiffs, Betty Craven and the Luttrulls, sought monetary damages for the girls’ emotional distress and to pay the mountings cost to educate the Luttrulls’ children in a private school. Craven’s daughter remains in a public school.
Luttrull said he abandoned the case partly because the negligence count pertaining to use of an inappropriate book had been dismissed by the trial judge.
“If I had unlimited funds, I would have appealed,” he said.

17 comments:

James Hatch said...

Our school board president Steve Fields said,“There are times when we need to stand up and say we think the accusations are wrong and we need to defend ourselves,” he said. “One reason we have insurance is to be able to do that.”

1. Have you ever heard of a confidential settlement agreement?

2. You are self-insured to protect against losses, not to spend taxpayer money to save face.

Jonathon Light said there was never a formal settlement offer. Were there ever any setttlement negotiations? He also said that he thought the case would be dismissed early and cost little. Maybe his firm shouldn't send in February's bill considering that it's initial assessment on cost appears to be hundreds of thousands of dollars off to the taxpayer detriment.

Where is the oversight?

James Hatch said...

Our school board president Steve Fields said,“There are times when we need to stand up and say we think the accusations are wrong and we need to defend ourselves,” he said. “One reason we have insurance is to be able to do that.”

1. Have you ever heard of a confidential settlement agreement?

2. You are self-insured to protect against losses, not to spend taxpayer money to save face.

Jonathon Light said there was never a formal settlement offer. Were there ever any setttlement negotiations? He also said that he thought the case would be dismissed early and cost little. Maybe his firm shouldn't send in February's bill considering that it's initial assessment on cost appears to be hundreds of thousands of dollars off to the taxpayer detriment.

Where is the oversight?

Anonymous said...

It must be similar to the type of oversight that's supposed to keep you from posting the same thing twice.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes it really seems as if there's more than one person using the name "James Hatch".

Anonymous said...

Sounds like money well spent. If the school district had settled, it could have set a precedent for any money grubbing winers to sue.

Ray Alpern said...

To James Hatch:

Thank you for your insight James, you ask some very good questions. Let me help answer them. First off let me warn you not to believe what you read in the OVN. As usual their reporting leaves a lot to be desired, i.e. Superintendant Baird was quoted as saying:

“They wanted Linda’s removal or firing and that just wasn’t justified,” Baird said Tuesday. “The settlement they offered was basically throwing Linda to the wolves, and I wasn’t going to do that.”

Then only a few paragraphs later it reads:

Jonathan Light, lawyer for the district, said that his clients never received a formal settlement offer from the parents, nor did the district formally offer to settle.

So which is it? Seems to me a good reporter would follow up to try to find out which is not telling the truth, don't you think? Not the OVN. Well I will tell you the truth, They're both liars! and the public record proves it. If you follow the link below, it will take you to the actual settlment proposal letter sent to Superintendant Baird on May 31, 2005 which was in fact one of Jonathan Light's exhibits attached to one of his many motions filed in this case (while running up a nearly $300,000 bill for his services and those of the other two attorneys who worked with him on this case.) So there's no way Mr. Light can claim he was not aware of this, and if you read it you will see there is no mention of any firing or removal of Ms. McMichael to support Mr. Baird's claims.

I think the question to be asked is: Why is virtually everyone on the OUSD side of this case lying?


http://picasaweb.google.com/
Luttrull.v.OUSD/SettlementProposal

Anonymous said...

Ray Alpern is dating Cathy Elliot Jones, the attorney who had been hired to represent the Lutrulls.

Anonymous said...

ray & cathy are also in a rock band together.

oak/view okie said...

why/does/everyone/shoot/arrows/ at/rockin ray/?

Anonymous said...

why/does/everyone/shoot/arrows/ at/rockin ray/?

Define "everybody".

Anonymous said...

I mean, "everyone".

Anonymous said...

THANK GOG FOR JAMES HATCH!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the reading material Ray. Though the print was fine when I looked up what you called a proposal I couldn't help see right of the bat that Luttrull lied when he stated that a letter of apology to parents who's children were in Mrs McMichael's class was in order. In the documents that you point out Ray the 1st one states that they demand an apology to every parent in the OUSD. Then they go on to make another 13 demands of which 7 of them insist on "admit wrongdoing". I think that would be a bit much for any teacher in the OUSD especially one of 25+ years of service in the same class with a number of teacher of the year awards. This lady did nothing wrong. Maybe according to you and few others. I read that book and there was very little if any that a 5th grader in this day age isn't familiar with, especially language. She did what she thought would be best for her students as she has done for over 25 years. Now this high and mighty eye doctor comes along and thinks he can run a better class room. It is absurd. I like many others have watched this pathetic event unfold over the last 3 years in amazement that it still had life. When I watched the opening statements the other day before leaving town that evening I knew the case was over as did I believe everyone else in that courtroom. There was no one on that defense side that had done anything wrong. They took the book away right away, they made other changes to prevent it from happening again. Though I personally don't think anything bad happened except some children didn't get some training on a subject we could most all use a class on. Mr. Luttrull I believe that you got what you paid for, nothing. My congratulations to Mrs. McMichael's, Tim Baird, John LeSuer and a brilliant job by Jonathan Light. Thank you,
Jim Loughman

Anonymous said...

THANK GOG FOR JAMES HATCH!

Magog too.

Anonymous said...

what/does /evryone/have against/cathylee and ray? /they deserve/our support/!

Anonymous said...

what/does /evryone/have against/cathylee and ray? /they deserve/our support/!

/Why?/

Anonymous said...

Good work people!
Now I'm interested in the title of 'the book' I want to read it for myself and possibly along with my 11 year old....