The San Ysidro Elementary School District and former Supt. Thomas Murray have reached an out-of-court settlement “in the very, very, high six-figure range” in his $5-million wrongful termination lawsuit filed against the district more than four years ago, according to Murray’s attorney.
Murray, who now lives in the Northern California city of Arroyo Grande, refused to comment. His attorney, Deborah Anderson of the Corona Del Mar law firm of Carman & Mansfield, said Murray believed the settlement, reached Friday, was “a long time in coming.”
“He was pleased to have his name cleared and be compensated for the tremendous injustice he has been forced to live with the last five years,” Anderson said.
Murray was appointed to the $37,000-a-year superintendent post in June, 1979, after a recall election of district trustees resulted in then-Supt. Robert Colgrove losing the majority of support and Murray being offered the position of superintendent. He had been a principal with the district since 1976.
Murray signed a two-year contract with the district in October, 1979. In November, another recall election resulted in the balance of support on the trustees board going back to Colgrove. The new board reached an agreement with Colgrove, who had also sued the district for wrongful termination, and reinstated him as superintendent. Murray was assigned as a principal-at-large.
In February, 1980, the trustees in an executive session voted to demote Murray to a teaching position for allegedly “failing to provide adequate leadership” and other charges. Murray refused to accept the demotion and left the district.
“The board had accused him (Murray) of driving the district’s car for personal use, formally called misappropriation of district property, as well as other charges,” Anderson said. “Instead of allowing him to respond to the charges, they were published in The San Diego Union, and he found out about them after they were published and after he had been terminated.
“The basis of the lawsuit was lack of due process. Everyone is guaranteed the chance to be heard before their rights are taken away from them, but this was totally lacking in this case.”
Anderson said the case finally went to trial in October, and the judge was emphatic in his ruling in favor of Murray.
A transcript of Superior Court Judge Franklin Orfield’s opinion, dated Oct. 17, 1985, said the trustees’ allegations against Murray were unfounded and unfair.
“I have never seen such a series of such serious charges of wrongdoing and even criminal conduct so cavalierly made with so little evidence to back them up,” the transcript read. “In this case the district set itself up as the prosecutor, the judge, the jury and the executioner.”
The case was to have returned to court next month to determine the amount of damages.
Greg Ryan, an attorney for Rhoades Hollywood & Neil, the San Diego law firm that represented the district, said the district considers the issue closed with the settlement and will not seek a reversal of the judge’s ruling.
“We had a good settlement offer (from the district),” Anderson said. “Sometimes you’re better accepting it and going on with your life. He’s never had a decent job since these acts occurred in 1980. . . . He had been an administrator for 13 years, and it is foolish to ask a man to start over at the age of 50. The lawsuit shows he was not in the wrong, but the humiliation and the personal distress, as well as the lost wages both past and future, cannot be made up ever in full.”
Anderson and Ryan both declined to disclose the exact settlement.