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One of Four Accused Trustees Quits at Orange Unified School District

Times Staff Writer

Eleanore Pleines, one of the four Orange Unified School District board members accused of “willful misconduct” by the Orange County Grand Jury, has resigned her position.

She said Thursday one of her reasons for resigning is that she didn’t want the district to use public funds to defend her.

The grand jury, using a seldom-invoked law, in June accused Pleines and three other school board members of failing to perform their duties properly in a case in which a former staff employee has been accused of rigging construction and repair contracts in the school district. The four board members are scheduled to appear in Orange County Superior Court on Aug. 21. If a subsequent jury trial were to find them guilty, the punishment would be removal from office.

Pleines’ resignation, which takes effect today, “renders the (civil) action against her moot and has the effect of dismissing it,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Martin Enquist. She will thus not face trial with the three other school board members, Enquist said. The three other members still facing trial are Robert James Elliott, Ruth C. Evans and Joe C. Cherry.

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In a brief letter to William Steiner, Orange Unified school board president, Pleines said she was glad that an investigation had been made into the tangled financial affairs of the district by police and the district attorney’s office.

“I wish to thank the Orange Unified school district staff, the City of Orange Police Department; the Orange County district attorney’s office, and the grand jury for the investigation of misappropriation of public funds,” she said in her letter.

“And I trust the result of these efforts will ensure that all public funds designated for the Orange Unified School District will be used for the education of all of our students.”

Pleines said in an interview Thursday that one of the reasons she decided to resign was that “I didn’t want to cause any expenditure of public funds in my (legal) defense.”

While the school board hasn’t yet decided whether it will pay for the defense of the accused board members, Steiner has said state law apparently allows a school board to use money for such a purpose.

Pleines said she doesn’t think money should be spent that way and added that she also had no desire to spend her own money for legal defense.

Pleines, 51, has been a board member since 1968 and has been continually reelected with little trouble. A softspoken woman, she opposed the board majority on many votes in the past, the most recent being the October firing of Supt. Kenneth Brummel.

Brummel has been credited by the Orange County Grand Jury with being the first official to notify police of misappropriation of public funds in the district. Brummel called for a police investigation shortly after taking over as superintendent in 1984.

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He recently said his relations with the school board became strained because he didn’t consult the trustees before calling police. Brummel was fired by a 5-2 vote of the school board last October, but the board majority insisted that the removal had nothing to do with Brummel’s actions in notifying police.

In addition to Pleines, the other board member who voted not to fire Brummel was Russell Barrios. Barrios was not on the board when the alleged contract riggings took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He thus was not accused of “willful misconduct” by the grand jury.

Pleines, who describes herself as “a homemaker,” said Thursday that she thinks transcripts of the grand jury testimony about Orange Unified will exonerate her.

She said, “I think the public will be interested in that testimony, which is not expected to be made public until later this month.

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Pleines also said she isn’t bitter about having her 19 years on the school board end with the legal cloud cast by the grand jury accusation. Her term would have expired in November; she said that by resigning before then more people might be interested in running for the position.

While Pleines’ resignation letter to Steiner said it was effective as of Wednesday, Steiner said state law provides that the resignation isn’t final until the letter is delivered to the county superintendent of schools. Steiner said he will deliver the resignation to county Supt. Robert Peterson today.


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