‘Enemies’ file claims over ex-superintendent’s list

Times Staff Writer

Parents and students named on “enemies lists” created by Capistrano Unified School District’s former superintendent have filed claims seeking $1 million each.

Trustee Anna Bryson confirmed Wednesday night that the district had received claims from at least 11 people included on the lists, which this year led to the indictments of two former top administrators.

While declining to comment on the school board’s closed-session discussions of the claims, Bryson said she shared the claimants’ horror regarding the lists. “This is a huge violation of the rights in this country, to be targeted in this way by their own tax dollars,” she said. “It’s beyond belief.”


The claims, which are often precursors to lawsuits, are the latest controversy to dog the 50,000-student school district. Most of the district’s 56 schools are well-regarded academically, but its trustees and administrators have been mired in conflicts for more than three years.

Among other issues, critics have loudly protested the location of a new high school, criticized attendance boundary changes, and fought construction of a $35-million administration complex while hundreds of classes were being held in aging portables.

The critics tried to recall the seven district trustees in 2005, but didn’t collect enough signatures to quality it for the ballot. They succeeded in placing three candidates on the school board in November. Earlier this summer, they announced the launch of a recall campaign against the four remaining old-guard trustees: Sheila Benecke, Mike Darnold, Marlene Draper and Duane Stiff.

The enemies lists led to the May indictment of former Supt. James Fleming on felony charges of misappropriating public funds, using district money to influence an election and conspiracy to commit an act injurious to the public. Former Assistant Supt. Susan McGill was indicted on charges of conspiracy and perjury. The pair, who could go to prison if convicted, pleaded not guilty in July.

The parents and students who filed claims against the district appear on the two lists at the heart of the indictments. The first, a list of people receiving e-mails from recall proponents, was created by Fleming and his secretary.

The second list, created at Fleming’s direction by McGill and her secretary, included personal information about the recall backers who gathered signatures on petitions, according to county grand jury testimony unsealed in July.

It’s unclear whether the lists were used for retaliation.

Tom Russell, spokesman of the CUSD Recall Committee, said that he, his wife and their son have each filed claims against the district alleging violations of civil rights, partly because district officials accessed his son’s confidential student records to create the lists. Russell declined to say whether the lists were used to retaliate against his family, saying that such information could come out in a potential lawsuit.

“The violation is so egregious,” he said. “The district needs to start conducting itself as a law-abiding body.”