By Jonathan Volzke
The 4th District Court of Appeal on Tuesday dismissed all charges against former Capistrano Unified School District Superintendent James Fleming, ruling that compiling lists of unhappy parents took very little time, and that there was no evidence he did anything wrong with them.
“In sum, we now hold that because Fleming was within his lawful authority to authorize his subordinates to compile the two lists, his authorizations were not criminal under section 424. Briefly, Fleming was within the proper scope of his authority as superintendant to research the nature of the discontent and unrest in the District at the time,” Presiding Justice David Sills wrote in the 36-page decision.
The lists came from the unsuccessful 2005 recall attempt against all seven trustees. The drama included a DA raid on the CUSD offices, and Fleming retired in 2006 after 15 years at CUSD and was indicted in 2007.
Fleming and an Assistant Superintendent were charged with theft of public funds – using public employees for political purposes – and similar violations. Since the allegations were filed, the charges had been whittled down to one, and the appellate justices were considering appeals from both Fleming — who wanted the last charge dismissed – and prosecutors who wanted the original charges restored.
The justices said they took the District Attorney’s version of events as fact, too, but the DA simply didn’t prove any wrongdoing. They also took note of the political discord in the district at the time.
Essentially, the justices accepted that public officials made the lists, but said it was all within Fleming’s duties as superintendent. It was his job, as he argued, to figure out who was unhappy and why.
“…the lists could serve the valuable and lawful purpose of allowing superintendent Fleming to actually meet with his critics, learn their grievances, and explain his position to them,” Sills wrote. “After all, we may ask, since when it is criminal for a school superintendent to meet with his critics?”
See a copy of the ruling at the Beyond the Blackboard blog.