Westlake High coach sues parent who accused him of 'child abuse'

Westlake High basketball coach sues parent whose criticism, he says, went too far

Parents of athletes complaining about coaches in big-time high school sports is about as common as booing from the bleachers. But a coach in Ventura County said one parent went too far — and he's suing him for $1 million.

In a 10-page civil complaint filed in Ventura County Superior Court, an attorney for Westlake High varsity boys basketball coach Robert Bloom is suing parent James Clark, alleging that he was unable to "accept the fact that his son wasn't and isn't a Division I Basketball star," and made libelous statements "with specific intent to … ruin" the coach's life.

"He's just a coach and he just wants to make this guy stop," Bloom's attorney, Jim P. Thompson, said. "This guy is kind of like the Blackhawk helicopter — a guy that just can't let go."

Clark said he was trying to hold the coach accountable.

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In emails presented as part of the lawsuit, and in an interview with The Times, Clark alleges that Bloom conducted "child abuse" by withholding wages from players —- including his son — who worked at a nonprofit sports camp that earned the coach thousands of dollars. Clark said he and a group of "concerned parents" have filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service after his son and others failed to receive paychecks for their hours of summer instruction.

Clark also alleges that Bloom verbally abused players with expletives and derogatory language. Bloom's attorney Thompson acknowledged that "there was one time" he used specific language cited by Clark, "and he apologized, and that was it."

In one of the emails attached to the lawsuit, Clark said that name-calling is "ugly." Then he calls Bloom "Slob Rob."

"This is not about playing time, this is about a pattern of high control," Clark said. "When someone has this much control over this many kids … it creates a situation where our son became verbally abused, emotionally abused, shunned.

"I'm honestly not looking for a fight," he said. "Was I trying to get back at Bloom? I guess the court will decide that."

District officials confirmed that Bloom is a "walk-on" coach — meaning that the coach does not retain a teaching job on campus — who has held the varsity boys basketball coaching job at Westlake High School since 2011. Bloom is associated with Westlake Sports Camp, an independent entity that rents school facilities to run summer sports programs for kids in the community, his attorney confirmed.

Clark's emails, some of which were also sent to Conejo Valley Unified School District Supt. Jeff Baarstad, also accuse the district of being a participant in "illegal improper actions" such as tax evasion and violations of child labor laws. Baarstad said the district was not involved in the lawsuit and would not comment, though he confirmed that Bloom remains the varsity boys basketball coach at Westlake.

Clark received a cease-and-desist letter from another attorney in July, but the emails have continued coming even after the lawsuit was filed earlier this month, Thompson said. Bloom's nonprofit sports camp "was done correctly and set up appropriately," he said.

"I don't think this is normal behavior of a parent that is upset," Thompson said. "He's gone from what everybody expects — which is complaining, calling a coach incompetent — to taking it to this level.… He's making specific, directed allegations. Once you use that language, 'child abuse,' it's a game changer; you can't put up with that."

Clark's 18-year-old son, James Sullivan Clark, who goes by "Sully," did not play his senior season on the basketball team and is now an engineering student at the University of Washington, where his father was a professor.

Responding to the lawsuit's allegation that he had a "vendetta" against Bloom related to his son's place and performance on the team, Clark said, "Sully's gone … so for me to raise this now, there must be other reasons."

Then he added that his son was in "great shape … got passed by a number of schools" and believes he could "out shoot" members of the Washington Huskies basketball team.

matt.stevens@latimes.com

Twitter: @MattStevensLAT

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