[UPDATED with Supt. Farley's Reaction:] Capistrano Unified School District Off the Hook for Brown Act Violations, DA Decides

When we get behind closed doors ...
UPDATE, SEPT. 20, 3:05 P.M.: Capistrano Unified School District Superintendent Joseph M. Farley, who was informed in May by the district attorney that he and his Board of Trustees violated the state's open meeting law during three of the previous six months, today welcomed a DA report that concluded no evidence could sustain those allegations.

"We are pleased that the District Attorney listened to our concerns and reopened the investigation. After a more thorough review, no Brown Act violations could be substantiated and we are pleased that the findings reversed the District Attorney's previous conclusions," Farley states in a district statement.

Farley continued: "The education of this community's children continues to be the top priority for both staff and elected members of this organization. We devoted the past school year to a rigorous focus on classroom instruction. This is proven by the most recent test scores, which again show CUSD being the highest achieving large school district in California."

ORIGINAL POST, SEPT. 20, 1:18 P.M.: The Orange County District Attorney's office has concluded there is insufficient evidence to prove the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees violated that state's open meeting law in December 2010, this past January and again in March.

This is, of course, the same OCDA that sent district Superintendent Joseph M. Farley a letter in May that alleged the board committed "multiple violations" of California's Ralph M. Brown Act. However, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas concludes his just-released, 27-page report with a stern scolding that makes CUSD's leaders come off like whiny second graders.

That May CUSD Brown Act violation letter, which was signed by Senior Deputy District Attorney Raymond S. Armstrong of the Special Prosecutions Unit and Senior Assistant District Attorney William J. Feccia of Special Projects, blatantly accused the board of violating the Brown Act: at two closed-door meetings in December when controversial furlough days for teacher and staff were discussed; at January closed sessions where teacher salaries were talked about without the labor negotiator being present as required by law; and in March when the board went from addressing an agenda item in open session to chatting about it behind the dais during a recess.

Here is previous coverage of these most recent Brown Act allegations:

Keep in mind this is a school district that has already been slapped around and threatened with legal action over Brown Act violations dating back four years, something that prompted the board to outlaw illegal secret meetings in 2009. Supposedly. Here is coverage of that:

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The report that was issued Monday but announced today (and which you can read here) bears the stamp of Rackauckas, who finds that, "Although an appearance of violations of the Brown Act occurred, the evidence developed has not been sufficient to establish their actual occurrence."

Um . . . huh?

The DA claims that the CUSD provided additional information about the meetings in question that led prosecutors to conclude, erm, "our bad." Specifically, the December closed door meeting participants--some of whom were new trustees whose only education concerning the Brown Act was being handed a pamphlet about it--could not agree on what actually happened while being interviewed by DA investigators. For instance, one mentioned a vote being taken--a vote whose results should have been revealed to the public, under state law--but others referred to it as an informal poll.

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Supt. Farley
In December and January, participants also disagreed about whether the superintendent had informed the board behind closed doors that the furlough days had been reinstated without a vote by trustees or if he was merely proposing it--something the DA blames on one particular unnamed trustee's faulty memory rather than deception.

As for the incident behind the dais in March, the DA could not establish that a quorum of board members were even present for the informal discussion.

The district's spokesman vows to have a response to T-Rack's report for the Weekly "soon."

While Rackauckas let the board, superintendent and other administrators off the hook when it came to Brown Act violations, the last part of his report includes the actual Brown Act (so trustees can have more than a pamphlet to refer to), a long explanation of the correct way for public agency board members to conduct themselves and inform the masses about their actions in California, and a stern scolding that faults the CUSD for . . .

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