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Laguna Beach school district trustee files lawsuit against board, alleging violation of constitutional rights

Dee Perry
Dee Perry, who has been on the Laguna Beach Unified School District board of trustees since 2014, filed a lawsuit Tuesday against her fellow trustees and the district superintendent.
(File Photo)

A Laguna Beach Unified School District trustee filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court against her fellow trustees and the district superintendent, accusing them of violating her constitutional rights and preventing her from performing her duties as an elected official.

Board member Dee Perry is seeking a permanent order in U.S. District Court blocking trustees Jan Vickers, Peggy Wolff, Carol Normandin and James Kelly and Supt. Jason Viloria — all of whom are named as defendants in the suit — from actions that Perry says prevent her from “exercising her civil rights and fully representing the constituents that elected her to the board, and equal participation in the proceedings and actions of the board.”

Perry and her attorneys also are asking that Perry, who has served on the board since 2014, be apprised of board events and issues to the “same extent as other board members.”

Perry is seeking a court award for litigation expenses and attorney fees.

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District officials said Wednesday that they have not seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.

Perry first announced her intention to sue the board in July after she was not included in a subcommittee to discuss confidential matters. The subcommittee, formed in June, included everyone on the board but Perry. Her colleagues said she had breached confidentiality rules by disseminating a message from the school district’s attorney.

In late August, the district retained law firm Rutan & Tucker on a yearlong contract to defend itself against Perry’s prospective litigation after Mark Bresee, the school district attorney who recommended forming the subcommittee, said he would recuse himself if the issue went to court.

Perry’s complaint states the defendants have retaliated and discriminated against her for being outspoken and voting against the majority “as to a small percentage of actions and practices of the board” and alleges they “conspired against her in violation of her First Amendment rights ... Fifth Amendment right to due process and 14th Amendment right to equal protection of the law” under the U.S. Constitution.

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The lawsuit details other grievances, including the board’s decision in March to change a bylaw that Perry says should have made her the panel’s president in December 2018, when it instead reappointed Vickers to that position. The complaint also mentions an email that Wolff sent last December to a former student that “wrongfully [suggested] board policy did not allow him to contact [Perry]” when he requested a meeting with her.

“The superintendent and board members have engaged in a pattern of unlawful conduct aimed to deprive ... Perry of her rights,” her lawyer, Maria Severson, said in an e-mail Wednesday afternoon. “They have interfered with her right to free speech and right to meet with and represent her constituents.”

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