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Judge Throws Out Brown Act Lawsuit

Ruling says it's enough that trustees discussed the reinstatement of furlough days at a public meeting.

Judge Throws Out Brown Act Lawsuit

An Orange County Superior Court judge threw out Monday the case a local resident filed against the  claiming trustees violated the state’s open meeting law when it .

Judge Gregory Lewis did not buy the argument, put forth by Laguna Hills attorney Wayne Tate, that the trustees had to vote separately to restore the furlough days to two employee groups that did not have automatic restoration language in their contracts.

“The agenda and minutes of the  show that reinstatement of furlough days was discussed,” Lewis said. “The issue of furlough days was discussed in an open forum.”

The special meeting to which Lewis referred was scheduled after Tate’s client, Jim Reardon of San Juan Capistrano, put the district on notice that trustees violated the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state law that requires publicly elected officials to conduct most business at open meetings.

Tate argued that because no vote occurred at the March 16 meeting, the meeting did not “correct and cure” the Brown Act violations. At that meeting, the trustees re-approved the existing contracts and agreements for the teachers, non-teachers, Teamsters and management.

Only contracts with the teachers union, Capistrano Unified Education Association, and California School Employees Association contained language that would have automatically restored furlough days should the district receive more funding than first anticipated when trustees approved the 2010-11 budget.

Jack M. Sleeth, Jr., the attorney representing Capo Unified, said other employees get their days restored when teachers do, even without a separate vote. He acknowledged there was no vote that specifically reinstated the furlough days for Teamster employees and management.

“If the teachers come back to school, someone needs to bring the kids to school. Principals need to be at school to supervise the teachers,” Sleeth said.

Tate countered that Sleeth’s arguments were not backed up by any precedent-setting cases.

“The board has to vote” to make changes to the Teamsters’ contract and management’s agreement, Tate said.

Lewis disagreed. In a written ruling, Lewis said it was enough the trustees talked about the issue at the March 16 meeting.

“[I]t appears the issue of the reinstatement of furlough days was addressed in public and, thus, the intent of the Brown Act was complied with,” Lewis wrote in a tentative ruling he made final.

After the hearing, Tate said he will discuss appealing the decision with his client.

“I think the judge is just clearly wrong,” he said.

Sleeth “appeared” by teleconference and was not available for comment.

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