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Critic Says Capistrano Unified Trustees Discussed Him, Files Suit

Times Staff Writer

An outspoken retired teacher sued the Capistrano Unified School District on Monday, accusing its trustees and superintendent of conspiring to curtail his ability to speak at public school board meetings.

Ron Lackey, who lives in Monarch Beach, attends every board meeting and regularly speaks on agenda items related to district spending.

In the suit, filed in Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana, Lackey alleges that the district violated the state’s open-meetings law by discussing inappropriate matters -- including how to silence him -- during a closed-session meeting. He is seeking a declaration that the trustees violated the Brown Act, wants an order requiring the board to videotape future closed meetings, and wants to be reimbursed for his attorney’s fees.

“It’s a mess down here,” said Lackey, who plans to run for the school board in November. “The kids do very well, and we’ve got great teachers. Why we’ve got this cancer at the district office, I don’t know.”

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Lackey did not teach in the district, but has taught at schools across Southern California and in New York.

Supt. James Fleming, who announced his resignation last month, said the allegations were baseless. “I find it ironic that a man who comes to just about every board meeting to complain about how much we have to spend on attorneys is filing a lawsuit against us so we’ll have to spend more on attorneys.”

The state’s Brown Act allows elected officials to meet in closed-session in strictly limited circumstances, such as employee evaluations and labor negotiations.

A July 30, 2005, meeting was held to discuss Fleming’s performance evaluation. But a document summarizing the meeting lists topics such as the school-year calendar, parental fundraising and advertising on school buses.

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The first item on the minutes, labeled “School Board Meeting Conduct Protocol,” notes “In general board members want to start to limit Ron Lackey and the amount of items he can address. Suggest that the board go back to only allowing members of the public to address two items as stated in board policy.”

Fleming said the items listed were potential topics of his plan for the upcoming school year, and as such are allowed to be discussed in closed session because they could form the basis for his next evaluation.

Trustee Duane E. Stiff said he had never witnessed any Brown Act violations. “I have no idea what [Lackey] is talking about,” Stiff said.

Trustees Shelia J. Henness and Sheila J. Benecke declined to comment.

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Attempts to reach district counsel David Larsen or trustees Marlene M. Draper, John Casabianca, Crystal Kochendorfer and Mike Darnold were unsuccessful.


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