Grand jury probes deal over school seg­re­ga­tion

Marin Independent Journal - - FRONT PAGE - By Gary Klien gk­lien@marinij.com @marinij on Twit­ter

Just as the dust was start­ing to set­tle in the Sausal­ito Marin City School District, an­other in­ves­ti­ga­tion is kick­ing up more.

The Marin County Civil Grand Jury has launched its own probe into the district’s his­toric de­seg­re­ga­tion set­tle­ment with the Cal­i­for­nia At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice.

Nor­mally, the grand jury’s work is con­cealed un­til it is­sues a re­port. But in this case, the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice opened the cur­tains.

It did so by fil­ing a mo­tion to quash the grand jury’s sub­poe­nas against sev­eral fig­ures in­volved in the set­tle­ment talks. The state says its set­tle­ment dis­cus­sions are “con­fi­den­tial and priv­i­leged” and the grand jury is ex­ceed­ing its au­thor­ity.

But the grand jury says it is ex­er­cis­ing its over­sight role on pub­lic ex­pen­di­tures and po­ten­tial gov­ern­ment mis­con­duct.

“The doc­u­ments should shed light on the acts of pub­lic of­fi­cers and board mem­bers who were in­volved in in­ten­tion­ally seg­re­gat­ing the district,” jury foreper­son Lucy Dil­worth wrote in a sub­poena at­tach­ment, “and will also il­lu­mi­nate other facts that may have in­flu­enced the district to sign on to such an ex­pen­sive, in­crim­i­nat­ing, and pub­lic set­tle­ment.”

The K-8 school district con­sists of Wil­low Creek Academy, a char­ter school in Sausal­ito, and Bay­side Martin Luther King Jr. Academy in Marin City. The state ac­cused the district of years of sys­tem­atic racial dis­crim­i­na­tion and seg­re­ga­tion by di­vert­ing more re­sources to Wil­low Creek.

On Aug. 9, state At­tor­ney Gen­eral Xavier Bec­cera came to Marin to an­nounce a set­tle­ment

with the district. The set­tle­ment re­quires the district to com­plete a five-year de­seg­re­ga­tion plan, es­tab­lish a schol­ar­ship pro­gram and cre­ate a coun­sel­ing pro­gram, among other man­dates.

“Depriv­ing a child of a fair chance to learn is wicked, it’s warped, it’s morally bank­rupt and it’s cor­rupt,” Be­cerra said. “Your skin color or zip code should not de­ter­mine win­ners and losers.”

The state took no puni­tive ac­tion against in­di­vid­ual board mem­bers.

The civil grand jury, an in­ves­tiga­tive arm em­pow­ered by the lo­cal ju­di­ciary, is­sued its sub­poe­nas on Sept. 30. The re­cip­i­ents in­cluded Joshua Bar­row, a board mem­ber in the school district; the district’s uniden­ti­fied cus­to­dian of records; and Ter­ena Mares, a county ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cial who acted as in­terim su­per­in­ten­dent for part of this year and last.

The sub­poe­nas cast a large net for in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing copies of “all writ­ten com­mu­ni­ca­tions” be­tween the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice and district staffers or trus­tees be­tween Dec. 21 and Aug. 8. The jury also wants writ­ten notes and copies of draft agree­ments.

“The set­tle­ment of the com­plaint re­quires the district to pay hun­dreds of thou­sands, if not mil­lions, of dol­lars,” wrote Dil­worth, the grand jury foreper­son. “Dur­ing the press con­fer­ence in which At­tor­ney Gen­eral Be­cerra an­nounced the set­tle­ment, he stated that the district’s board had acted in­ten­tion­ally, and that its ac­tions were ‘ wicked,’ ‘ warped,’ ‘morally bank­rupt,’ and ‘cor­rupt.’ Three out of five of the same board mem­bers still sit on the board to­day.

“The Marin County Civil Grand Jury’s role is to act as a gov­ern­ment watch­dog. It is em­pan­eled to in­quire into the will­ful or cor­rupt mis­con­duct of pub­lic of­fi­cers, and into the ex­pen­di­ture of pub­lic money. We be­lieve it is our duty, and in­cum­bent upon us, to in­ves­ti­gate this set­tle­ment.”

In the mo­tion to quash the sub­poe­nas, the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice said the grand jury was vi­o­lat­ing the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers be­tween the ex­ec­u­tive and ju­di­cial branches. It also said set­tle­ment talks are nec­es­sar­ily con­fi­den­tial be­cause oth­er­wise par­ties would be re­luc­tant to co­op­er­ate.

“Noth­ing pre­cludes the grand jury from so­lic­it­ing and ob­tain­ing facts from the district re­lat­ing to mat­ters that may be un­der the grand jury’s ju­ris­dic­tion and not sub­ject to this strict con­fi­den­tial­ity,” wrote Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Gar­rett Lind­sey.

The dis­pute has been as­signed to Judge Stephen Frec­cero in Marin County Su­pe­rior Court. A hear­ing date is pend­ing.

As­sis­tant County Coun­sel Jack Govi, who rep­re­sents the civil grand jury, de­clined to com­ment on the motions to quash the sub­poe­nas.

“Grand jury mat­ters are con­ducted con­fi­den­tially and any motions con­cern­ing the grand jury should be filed un­der seal with the courts,” he said.

Bar­row, the sub­poe­naed trus­tee, said: “For le­gal mat­ters, I de­fer to district coun­sel. I will say that I am al­ways glad to speak to the grand jury on pub­lic mat­ters while obey­ing the Brown Act on mat­ters of closed ses­sion or oth­er­wise

con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion.”

The district ad­min­is­tra­tion did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Mares, the for­mer in­terim su­per­in­ten­dent, said: “The Marin County Of­fice of Ed­u­ca­tion has al­ways main­tained a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship with Marin County grand ju­ries and are com­mit­ted to do so in the fu­ture. How­ever, given the Cal­i­for­nia at­tor­ney gen­eral two-year in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Sausal­ito Marin City School District and ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment I am at a loss as to why the Marin County grand jury is pur­su­ing this is­sue.”

Mares has re­turned to her reg­u­lar job at the county of­fice. In June, the district hired a new su­per­in­ten­dent, Itoco Gar­cia.

The district is work­ing on a plan to merge its two schools. Mean­while, Wil­low Creek Academy has re­ported financial duress from de­clin­ing en­roll­ment.

David Levine, a Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia law pro­fes­sor fa­mil­iar with civil grand jury op­er­a­tions, said the sub­poena con­flict is unusual be­cause civil ju­rors gen­er­ally re­search nar­row lo­cal mat­ters. He said a judge might al­low the grand jury some ac­cess to the in­for­ma­tion, while main­tain­ing lim­its.

“I sus­pect you would get a court or­der say­ing you can ask of­fi­cials stuff but not get into con­fi­den­tial com­mu­ni­ca­tions,” said Levine, who teaches at UC Hast­ings Col­lege of the Law in San Francisco. “A court would be pretty leery to give the civil grand jury an open door to this ma­te­rial.”

JEREMY PORTJE — MARIN IN­DE­PEN­DENT JOUR­NAL

Cal­i­for­nia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Xavier Be­cerra an­nounces a de­seg­re­ga­tion set­tle­ment with the Sausal­ito Marin City School District on Aug. 9 at Bay­side Martin Luther King Jr. Academy.

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