Pasadena City College trustees were concerned that former President Mark W. Rocha would sue the school after a trustee made disparaging remarks about him in a Los Angeles Times article last year and entered mediation that resulted in Rocha receiving a nearly $400,000 retirement payment, according to court documents filed this week.
Rocha and other college officials had been criticized in various articles for their handling of that year’s commencement speaker. A trustee originally invited Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who graduated from the school in 1994.
But other school officials later withdrew the invitation, saying they were concerned that images from a stolen sex video with Black that had been posted on the Internet could hurt the school’s reputation, according to the campus newspaper.
Rocha and other officials then chose another speaker, Pasadena Public Health Director Eric Walsh, a preventive health specialist and Seventh-day Adventist minister who once said, "If God's plan was followed, there would be no AIDS epidemic."
“As you know, not only did I have nothing to do with this problem with [Black], I rescued the college from this situation with my recommendation,” Rocha wrote in an email contained in the court filing.
Walsh, however, also was disinvited and Black delivered the commencement speech. College trustees later paid Black nearly $26,000 not to sue; Black said he used the money on legal and travel expenses.
One school trustee criticized the handling of the commencement speaker and Rocha to a Times columnist.
"I'm angry," Ross Selvidge said in a May 2 article. "This was an enormously embarrassing episode for the school." Rocha, he said, "is really [messing] up our college."
“He has gone too far and after Commencement I do intend to act,” Rocha wrote in a May 2 email to an attorney and the president of the board of trustees.
Rocha later hired a private attorney who said in an email to an attorney for the college that “we are deeply troubled by these statements and request that the college take immediate steps to correct the record.”
Rocha said he tried to resolve the dispute but “it was apparent to me that litigation between the parties was a very distinct probability in order to protect my reputation and contractual rights,” he said in court papers.
Rocha and school administrators went to mediation and eventually agreed that Rocha would resign. He received nearly $400,000 as part of his retirement settlement.
Rocha could not be reached for comment. School officials declined to comment.
A nonprofit group has filed a lawsuit against the college for allegedly breaking state open meetings laws while negotiating the retirement. School officials have denied wrongdoing and the case is scheduled to go to trial later this month.