A candidate for the Tustin Unified School District board said Friday that he is remaining in the race despite public disclosure that he was arrested in 1979 and 1986 in men’s rooms on suspicion of exposing himself.
Dr. Harvey E. Kershnar maintains that both arrests were police mistakes and that he was a “victim of entrapment.”
“I am not dropping out of the race,” said Kershnar, 45, a pediatrician and allergist. “This attempt to smear my name is an example of the oppressive politics that goes on in this school district.”
Police and court records show that Kershnar was arrested for lewd conduct on Sept. 3, 1986, by Costa Mesa police in a men’s restroom at the South Coast Plaza shopping center. On Dec. 4 of that year, Kershnar pleaded guilty in Harbor Municipal Court to disturbing the peace, a lesser charge. Two lewd conduct charges were dismissed, but on the condition that one of those charges would be classified as a conviction should Kershnar ever “commit a similar act.” Kershnar was fined $300 and court costs and was placed on three years’ probation. He was also ordered to “not go to South Coast Plaza toilets--violate no law.”
Kershnar maintains that the charges are false.
Costa Mesa Police Lt. Rick Johnson on Friday disputed Kershnar’s claim that he was a victim of police entrapment. “I’ve read the report, and it’s a six-page report--very long for a police report,” Johnson said. “I’m very comfortable that there was no indication of entrapment.”
The police arrest report says the undercover officer arrested Kershnar and another man in 1986 after seeing them go to two men’s restrooms at South Coast Plaza, Johnson said. “There was more than one overt action,” Johnson said.
Kershnar, however, said in an interview that the man who was arrested with him had “acted strangely” and had followed him. Kershnar said he left one men’s room to try to shun the man and that the man followed him into another restroom.
Johnson said no record remains of Kershnar’s arrest in 1979. Normal police procedure is to purge cases after the statute of limitation for prosecution on them expires, he said. “This case was probably purged in 1984, but the subject (Kershnar) told our officers about his 1979 arrest when he was arrested in 1986,” Johnson said. Kershnar said in an interview that the 1979 arrest for lewd conduct was at a different men’s room at South Coast Plaza. That case, which he argued also was the result of a police mistake and entrapment, was dropped, Kershnar said. Kershnar said that in both the arrests, he was standing at a urinal and a police undercover officer arrested him on suspicion of lewdly exposing himself to a man at the urinal next to his.
Keith Monroe, Kershnar’s attorney in the 1986 case, said: “I think the law under which my client was arrested is unconstitutional, but I advised him that fighting it would bring public attention to an unfortunate arrest.” Kershnar said that he concurred with Monroe’s advice and decided to plead guilty to the lesser charge.
Calls Action ‘Blackmail’
Reports of Kershnar’s arrests surfaced this week. Kershnar says that he is a victim of dirty politics and “blackmail.”
“I was called by (Tustin) Councilman Richard Edgar, and he told me that someone had found out about my arrest but that it would not be made public if I withdrew from the race,” Kershnar said. Kershnar said he told Edgar that he would not withdraw.
Edgar could not be reached for comment.
Late Friday afternoon, the executive board of the Tustin Educators Assn. union, which has endorsed Kershnar, met for 2 1/2 hours in a closed session to discuss the controversy that erupted when his arrests were made public.
As he left the meeting, Kershnar said that he asked the board to continue supporting him and that he would stay in the race either way.
Later, union President Joyce Rohrbaugh said that “by an almost unanimous vote” the executive board had decided to continue its endorsement of Kershnar.
Rohrbaugh criticized the efforts to publicize Kershnar’s misdemeanor arrests, calling them “a political ploy and an example of the oppression that takes place in Tustin Unified School District.”
She said the union’s executive board believes Kershnar “will support the quality education that the teachers of this district are seeking.”
On Thursday morning, Kershnar said, he told a candidates’ forum for the Foothill High School faculty about his arrest record and the effort to have him withdraw from the race. “This incident has absolutely no bearing on my ability to contribute positively to the school district,” Kershnar said in a prepared statement to the teachers. He added, “I still refuse to yield to what I perceive as blackmail.”
The union has endorsed two other candidates in the Nov. 8 election. The union has said it hopes to unseat two incumbents, Barbara Benson and Joyce Hanson. Three seats will be decided; one incumbent, Chris Layton, is not seeking reelection.
Reasons for Running
Kershnar, who is divorced, is the father of three daughters ages 18, 16 and 9. He has not sought public office before.
“I decided to run for the school board because as my older daughters got involved in high school, I learned about problems in the school district,” he said. “Teacher morale is very low in this school district. There is a pattern of oppression in this school district, and I think what has happened to me is part of that oppression.” Kershnar was critical of Tustin Supt. Maurice Ross, saying Ross is part of that “oppression.” Kershnar has said that the district should “look for a new superintendent” when Ross’ term expires.
Ross, asked for comment Friday, said: “As for his charge about ‘oppression,’ I don’t know what his credentials are to comment on the subject. He never spoke to me until about a month ago. He said he was upset with administrators at Foothill High, but he told me he hadn’t talked to them.