Monday, March 20, 2000

The infamous "greenhouse" affair, part 2

—continued from Part 1

From Dissent 47, 3/20/00
Originally entitled:

“HELLO, MR. CHIPS”: THE MARCH 9 “SPECIAL MEETING”

By Chunk Wheeler [Roy Bauer]
Trustee Nancy Padberg
In the March 9 issue of the Irvine World News, we are told: “The community college board of trustees must decide at a special meeting today, Thursday, whether to allow an Irvine Valley biology teacher’s tenure [to] go forward…Or, they may fire the teacher, Jefferey Kaufmann, for alleged insubordination for his role in posting unauthorized signs naming a greenhouse he helped students build…Kaufmann’s contract will go forward unless he is notified otherwise by March 15.”

Here’s my account of that special meeting. —CW

The door is locked:

Jeff nowadays
3:55: When Wendy and I arrive at Library 105, no one’s around, except Harry P, who’s keeping the door locked, because, he says, the room’s “filled to capacity.” But when the door opens briefly, we get a glimpse inside, and, though the seats are filled, the walls are empty. “I’ve been to lots of these things,” roars Wendy, “and it’s been standing-room only!” Just then, Priscilla walks up and thunders: “You mean to tell me that the door is locked for a public meeting?!” Harry looks uncomfortable. “You’ve gotta understand,” he begins to say, but it doesn’t matter. He disappears inside, apparently locking the door behind him. We stand around like assholes.

4:05: The door opens, and evidently on Ced’s orders, Harry now ushers in the hoi polloi, who line the walls. Now, it’s standing room only. Apparently, the door is again locked, exiling more Rebels to the Trans-Siberian hallway.

Students had hoped to bring a camcorder for the public comments, but, somehow, that didn’t happen. No problem: Wendy E accosts a wandering camcordsky and recruits him on the spot. Wow! Other students take charge of the room: “Get your gold slips!” they announce—a reference to the public remark forms. “Last call!” shouts Didi, an apparent leader of the student Kaufmanniacs.

The unbearable lightness of Nancy:

4:10: BOOM BOOM BOOM! Board president Nancy Padberg mercilessly hammers her gavel, spraying splinters, and the meeting begins. Speakers will be “limited to 30 minutes” on the dismissal topic, she proclaims. She calls names in groups of three.

Peter Morrison’s name is called, and he immediately gives his time over to Jeff.

–Ah, but there’s a problem. Has the fellow filled out a slip? asks Padberg. (Are you kidding? murmurs the crowd.) “You didn’t fill out a slip!?” she asks. As the 30-minute clock ticks away, and amid derisive crowd mutterage, the Jeffster fills out a goddam slip. Even Wagner seems annoyed, momentarily putting down his reading material to glare at The Nancy. Finally, Jeff speaks:

JEFF: I want to say up front that I take my teaching seriously, says Jeff (more or less). “That’s who I am.” I’m not without emotions, he adds, emotionally. This is very troubling…I don’t like seeing so many people debilitated, incapacitated.

Naturally, Jeff is in no hurry to make his points, and he is not yet finished when his two minutes are up—BOOM!—Time’s up; move along.

Then, as an afterthought, Padberg decides to invite Jeff to closed session to complete his remarks. Jeff walks back to his part of the wall, and the audience breaks into furious applause, which lasts for about 25 seconds before it is drowned out by Padbergian poundage. She announces the next speaker:

DAN (a student): Naturally, he sings Jeff’s praises, and, again, the audience breaks into applause, but Padberg demurs, reminding us that the clock is ticking, and we’ve only got 30 minutes. Boom! NEXT! Hurry!

KATHY S: She says she was gratified that the board paused back on the 22nd of February, the night of the first Kaufmannian encomia. She reminds the trustees that the district is “an institution of higher education.” We are a college, she says, not a military or a corporate organization. (Wagner seems confused.) Kathy speaks of the need for process and reasonable decision-making “without whim or vagary.” When you go “outside the process,” she says, you do an “injustice…at all levels”—BOOM!—Time’s up; move along.

—So forceful is Padberg’s galvanic gavellage that some in the audience actually cower and scatter. NEXT!

His face is red:

Kathie Hodge
JULIE W: Jeff deserves to be tenured, offers Julie. Facts must guide your decision. She refers to a letter sent by attorney Carol Sobel to the trustees, which is filled with facts that undermine Mathur’s case against Jeff.

Some trustees aren’t listening. Williams, for one, concentrates instead on having as red a face as is humanly possible. NEXT! Hurry!

DEB B (a student leader): She’s presently in a Masters program in biology at Cal State Pomona, she says, and she’s doing quite well. I attribute my success, she adds, to Professor Kaufmann, among others at IVC. Noting that the trustees often begin their meetings with a prayer, Deb reads from 1st Peter 3:8—something about compassion—BOOM!—Time’s up; move along.

WENDY E (a student leader): She sees Jeff’s excellence “in the faces of [his] students,” she says. She compares the “good teacher” with the “truly great teacher.” The latter “inspires students,” and that’s Jeff all over.

Instructor Steve L’s name is called, but he isn’t present. (He arrives a few minutes late, delayed, I think, by traffic.) Someone wants to speak for him, but Nancy nixes the idea. NEXT! Go go go!

PRISCILLA R: She has two sons who have taken biology at IVC. One son has a learning disability; the other, at 22, is finishing his Ph.D. What does she think of Jeff? Sometimes, says Priscilla, people use the expression, “Put your money where your mouth is.” (She now hunkers down and looks straight at the trustees.) “Well, I gave Jeff my two sons!” This brings down the house. As Priscilla stalks off, the audience goes wild.

I look around. Almost everyone’s in tears. –NEXT!

The rubber band:

A STUDENT: She’s an OC taxpayer, a voter, she says. It’ll be a “great detriment” to the school to lose Jeff, ‘cuz he makes the complex seem simple, etc. Another student refers to the “huge line” of Kaufmann supporters outside. Jeff’s a great teacher, he says. “You,” he adds, looking directly at the board, “don’t have an impact on my life…You have no direct influence on my life—none. I’d like to keep it that way.” It’s a put-down, and everyone loves it. The kid’s a comedian!

During these speeches, Armando Ruiz, sitting next to Glenn Roquemore, plays with his special rubber band, which, at one point, he administers too strenuously, causing it to snap and smack Glenn.

These guys run IVC.

MORE STUDENTS: Jeff’s an “inspiration,” says one student. Another student—a “scholar athlete”—explains that Jeff works damn hard for the college. Jeff’s loss would be our loss, says yet another student.

Julie nudges me. “Look!” she says. “Wagner isn’t listening, ‘cuz he’s reading.”

“Hey!” says someone else. “He’s reading a Dissent!”

Podium teeterage:

JOE (a student): Though Joe has never taken one of Jeff’s classes, he was the president of the Bio Club, and Jeff really helped out, settin’ up field trips that weren’t lame, what with the tracking of coyote and fox turds.

Another student, a rather imposing former Bio Club president, explains that Jeff’s the cat’s meow, the bee’s knees. As he speaks, the Big Guy becomes increasingly emotional, even distraught. “You don’t understand what you’re doing!” he bellows. In the end, he shoves at the heavy podium hard, causing it to teeter! Then he stalks off to receive hugs. Whew!

–NEXT!

SEAN : Sean, the calm after a storm, steadies the podium and explains—calmly, articulately—that Jeff is a good teacher, a “most valuable commodity.” I’m passionate about this kind and gentle man, he adds.

KAY CLARK: Kay, who explains that she is not Kate Clark, is not Steve R either, but she is here to read his statement. Jeff, writes Steve, is exactly what a Bio instructor is supposed to be. He has made an “unimpeachable” contribution to the college…BOOM!—Time’s up; move along.

LEWIS L: Dr. Kaufmann, says Lewis, is an exemplary faculty member, loved by all. Lewis presents a letter of support for “this outstanding teacher,” signed by 51 of Jeff’s colleagues at IVC—all tenured. Untenured faculty, of course, were not asked to sign.

TRACI F: She reads statements of three students who could not attend. One notes the “moral support” that Jeff provided when she was ill. Another expresses bafflement and bewilderment regarding Raghu Mathur’s recommendation to withhold Jeff’s tenure. The recommendation is, she says, “beyond comprehension.”

I try to observe the trustees, but my view is mostly blocked by the crowd. I see glimpses of hideous glowing red flesh—that must be Williams. I also catch a glimpse of Wagner, who’s still reading his Dissent. Hey, he may be a right-wing lunatic, but he knows a good newsletter when he sees one.

“How can this be?”:

4:42: Just as the excellent Lisa A prepares to speak, Padberg declares that time’s up, and that’s that. She adjourns to closed session. Frogue, rubbing his hands with anticipation, mutters: “Mmmmm, dinner,” and scampers upstairs.

Meanwhile, Didi is visibly distraught, for she wasn’t allowed to address the board, and neither were many others. How can this be? she asks. Someone suggests to Didi that she go to the Chancellor to ask him how it can be. She does so.

Sampson informs her (says Didi, later) that all of the testimonials to Jeff’s excellence were irrelevant. “His teaching isn’t the issue.”

Wanna cookie?

I wander outside, joining the impressive crowd, which remains.

I find Jeff and, with Wendy, urge him not to speak to the board without his lawyer, Carol, who is in Los Angeles. Jeff seems determined to have his say, and he waits to be called in. The hold up: the district’s clueless “dismissal” lawyer, Allan Wilion, is stuck in traffic. In the meantime, the trustees are chowin’ down on the 3rd floor.

As the crowd mills about, Wendy and I get Carol on the phone and then ask Jeff to speak with her, which he does. Not long after, Jeff is taken upstairs and led into the trustees’ banquet room, where, evidently, he informs them that, on his lawyer’s advice, he has decided not to speak with them sans lawyer. Some of the trustees say they understand.
Jeff clownin' around at a party, years later
Jeff now notices the impressive spread upon which the trustees are feeding. Padberg offers Jeff a cookie. He takes two.

After spending a few minutes with his supporters, Jeff heads home to a bottle of merlot.

Meanwhile, some of us go to Chili’s, where we have chips and beer. When we return, at around 7:35, we find a still-large crowd dispersed between Library 105 and the elevators. Harry P announces that the board won’t be emerging from closed session for at least another hour. (According to the law, closed session “actions” must be announced in an immediately subsequent open session.) No one budges.

8:40: The crowd has thinned to about 30-35, but the die-hards are having a good time. Someone hands me the latest OC Weekly. I read aloud Matt Coker’s story describing Roy Bauer’s Feb. 29 court victory against Raghu Mathur and something called the “Trustee Accountability Project of Laguna Beach.” The crowd loves it.

“People! Go home!”

9:05: A jovial Vice Chancellor Poertner emerges from the elevator, telling the Tustin Base guy that the board isn’t gonna discuss the base tonight, that’s for sure. (Naming the base facility is on tonight’s agenda.)

9:25: The trustees begin to emerge from the first floor elevator, starting with Wagner and Lang. Wagner seems surprised to see so many people; he shouts: “People! Go home!”

We file into 105, waiting for the “read out” of closed session actions. I study the faces of the trustees as they emerge from the back room. One trustee flashes a subtle cock of an eyebrow. It seems to say, “It’s good.” I turn around and tell everyone, “It’s good!” “How do you know?” they ask. “I don’t,” I answer. They become peevish.

I study Mathur’s face: he smiles like a lizard. Someone says: “That’s no smile. That’s his look when he loses.”

A feeble mantra:

At 9:30, the board reconvenes to open session, announcing that “No actions were taken.”

That’s it. The board took no action, and so, apparently, Jeff’s tenure will occur, unopposed, in a week. At first, the crowd is unsure and wary. “No action?”

In the milling chaos that follows, I wander up to the trustees’ table and find Marcia. I ask: “So, is Jeff’s job safe?” “I think so,” she says.

I ask Dave Lang the same question. His lips say, “Well, we didn’t take action,” but his expression says: “Jeff’s job is safe” plus “leave me alone.” He then declares, for all to hear, that the chancellor will make “an announcement.”

The crestfallen Chancellor does no such thing, but he submits to questions from IWN reporter Laura Hayes, who, at first, encounters a feeble mantra: “no action was taken.”

So why did the trustees decide not to fire Jeff?

“Whadya mean? No action was taken.”

Yeah, but…

“Nothin’ happened; no action was taken.”

Laura, undeterred, presses for answers. Sampson explains that there’s more to being an instructor than teaching. Someone asks: so, will there be a surprise meeting some time before the 15th? Is that it? “No surprises,” he says.

Meanwhile, Mr. Frogue is determined to leave the building in a hurry. Everyone knows that he’s Mathur’s biggest supporter, and, tonight, Mathur lost bigtime, as did Cedric, who backed Mathur 1,000%. Avoiding all eye-contact, Frogue packs up his stuff and runs out the door, this time not even stopping to invite me to his house for dinner!

I ask (or someone asks) Trustee Wagner whether any action was taken concerning the PERB agreement, which was hammered out on the 29th. It had been ratified by the union on the 6th, and now awaited final ratification by the trustees. No action was taken, says Wagner. He seems to imply, however, that the matter was discussed.

And that was about it. —CW

MATHUR IN A LATHER: A SLAPP-SUIT COMEDY

Dissent 46

March 6, 2000

SUIN’ SAFARI!

by Chunk Wheeler [Roy Bauer]

Carol Sobel
        February 29: After lunch, Carol, a friend of hers, Wendy, and I headed for Judge Michael Brenner’s courtroom in Santa Ana. Our hearing was set for 1:30.
     We entered the building at about 1:20 and found our way to the elevators, where dozens of besuited lawyers stood around like hamsters, nervously eyeing the elevator doors while intermittently consulting wrist-watches. Even Carol seemed worried. Someone murmured: “Type A personalities.” I said: “Hey, don’t worry, baby! It’s 1:23, and we’ve got all the time in the world!”
     Three minutes later, we were anxiously climbing the stairs to the third floor. We reached Brenner’s court just before 1:30, but its doors were locked, which meant the earlier session had not finished. A docket crudely posted outside the courtroom listed “Mathur vs. Bauer” dead last out of 24 cases. “What the hell does that mean?” I asked. “It means we’re last,” someone said.
     My friend Jan, a lawyer, joined us. “They often put the most interesting cases last,” he said. “So we’re interesting, are we?”, said I. I wasn’t sure I wanted us to be interesting.
     The door swung open at 1:40, and we filed in along with all the suits. Mathur was nowhere to be seen. We tried to guess which guy was Corfield, Mathur’s lawyer. Wendy had encountered him—or someone who might have been him—a few days before in Laguna Beach. She described him to me as “kinda a surf bum.” I scoured the room for such a person. I spotted one—way off to the left. He seemed to be lookin’ for the perfect wave. Sand fell from his pockets.
     We watched the bailiff, who didn’t seem to have anything to do but swagger. I mentioned that, for many years, trustee John “Brown Boy” Williams was a bailiff. We watched this one as he slowly transferred a piece of paper from one end of the courtroom to another.
     At 1:55, for some reason, the courtroom became eerily silent, and everyone stared in anticipation. But Brenner still didn’t show. At 2:00, a man in a judge costume started hangin’ around by the back door chewin’, but he was just teasin’ us, I guess, ‘cuz nothin’ happened.
     Brenner emerged at 2:15, and he sure did look like a judge. The first case was Martinez v. Somethin’-or-other. Brenner told the lawyers he wasn’t up to speed, and so let’s do this another day. “My fault,” he said. In the next case, someone didn’t file something, and that wasn’t so good, apparently. Then, in the next case, a lawyer neglected to file the “opposition,” and so Brenner granted the summary judgment. Bang!
     A case concerning “Commercial Wastepaper” was up next. Brenner spoke of a “grudge match” that had been going on for a long time. While that went on, I looked over at Corfield, who happily played Beach Blanket Bingo on his legal pad.
     The judge said some critical things about the opposing parties. Wendy whispered something about “Judge Wapner” into my left ear. Meanwhile, Brenner evidently had to impose a $1000 fine on somebody, but he wasn’t sure quite how he oughta do that, and so, after a few moments of Solomonic reflection, he said, “I’ll tell you what; let’s split the difference. Five hundred dollars each.”
     Wow. I hoped he wasn’t gonna pull this splittin’ maneuver in my case.
     A suit involving “American Funds Service” was next. Someone wanted attorneys’ fees, but Brenner turned ‘em down flat.
Mathur
     By 2:45, the court had moved on to something amusingly referred to as “Green Burrito litigation.” Corfield had had enough; he went outside to wax his surfboard.
     We passed notes around. In her note, Carol opined that Brenner “certainly is very cordial,” and that he has a sense of humor, unlike some o’ those surly and pompous judges she’s used to in Federal Court. Just then, Brenner looked at a one of the lawyers and said, “It’s a pleasure to see you”—which, I figure, was just his juristical way of sayin’: “How’s it goin’, asshole?”
     By 3:00, the court had moved on to Klein v. Somebody, and a lawyer or the judge said that the case was just a “rehash.” This talk of rehashing led to more loose talk, and soon, a lawyer misspoke, asserting something about “heat.” “I’ve seen lawyers in heat,” quipped Brenner.
A      short, attractive, blond dynamo got up to argue for her client in McCornan v. Pine Creek. Evidently, a landlord refused to rent to a guy because he was an African American. Wow. As the judge and the lawyers spoke, they referred to “sexual orientation,” “homosexual animus,” “outrageous conduct,” and whatnot. We all stared intently: it was just like an episode of LA Law.
            At 3:30, Brian Wilson left the room again. Brenner expressed skepticism about something Surfer Girl said….
            At 3:35, Brenner called for a ten minute recess, apparently to give the court reporter’s digits a rest. We went outside and jawed. I noticed that the case that had just been heard immediately preceded “Mathur v. Bauer” on the docket!
            At 3:53, we were back inside, and, sure enough, “Mathur” was next. Here are my notes, which are pretty spotty:
            BRENNER: Brenner notes that the case is a motion to strike. [That is, it’s a motion to dismiss the suit.] He asks attorney Sobel what she has to offer.
            SOBEL: Carol refers to the purpose of the anti-SLAPP statute…she says something about “encouraging” resolution at the earliest possible stage. [The statute is designed to protect people against “Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation.” In other words, it’s designed to combat the chilling effect of lawsuits against people who speak out on matters of “public significance.”] The defendant’s burden, she says, is “miniscule.”
     She says the sole cause of Mathur’s action is “invasion of privacy.” If any of the 4 key elements (which she lists) of such a case fails, the case must be dismissed. It is clear, she says, that Mathur is a public official. (Relative to…?) Mathur needs to make a case that the facts are false—or that’s it.
The articles and documentation in the newsletter concerned Mathur’s conduct as a public official, and the conduct of such people is always a matter of public concern. Hence, Mathur can’t prevail in this case. Keep in mind: he [Mathur] doesn’t contest the facts reported in the newsletters, and they’re enough to “puke a dog off a gut wagon!” [Well, I made up the part about the “gut wagon.”]
     Invasion of privacy involves the public disclosure of private facts (and that’s not involved here). Mathur is a public official…
     In these cases, the burden shifts to the plaintiff, who needs to provide “competent evidence” that he will [likely] prevail (in a trial). Mathur has not met that burden. His papers are devoid of (evidence of the requisite sort).

[Corfield projects cockiness during Carol’s remarks. Now, someone whispers, “Surf’s up!”]

       CORFIELD: There’s an important distinction. The defendant’s counsel refers to defamation(?), but our complaint concerns, not defamation, but invasion of privacy. Mathur is suing because the defendant (and Mr. B) stole documents from a file…Bauer and Mr. B stole a letter that is privileged; they stole and published something that is confidential. The issue of truth or falsity—to which defendant’s counsel refers—is a “red herring.”
     Corfield says that Bauer’s attorney hasn’t succeeded (in showing the applicability of the anti-SLAPP statute?).
     Bauer, repeats Corfield, has stolen Mathur’s records.
     Defendant’s counsel today tells us, says C, that Mathur must prove his case. Corfield refers to “Briggs.” …So I don’t have to prove my case; rather, I am obliged only to STATE A CASE.
     The defendant’s moving papers, says C, are largely (1st Amendment?) boilerplate; (hence) they offer “obtuse” [sic; he means “abstruse”] language.
     Bauer’s counsel is [comparing?] apples and oranges. We need to look at Schulmann (a Supreme Court case?).

       BRENNER: “They” [the defendants] stole documents, you say. But there’s no evidence of that (in your papers). You don’t show how this defendant got these papers.

       [NOTE: They’re referring to a letter of reprimand (of Mathur), which I had reproduced in Dissent (in January of 1999), that, evidently, is part of Mathur’s personnel file. But, of course, that I had possession of a copy of that document does not suggest that I, or anyone else, stole it from Mathur’s file.]

       CORFIELD: (Says something; not much; I took no notes. Corfield describes Mathur as the “president of a university.”)

       BRENNER: This defendant [Bauer] got the papers (the letter of reprimand) somehow…How Mathur performed his job in the past is newsworthy.
(Corfield argues that the events to which the “papers” are related occurred very long ago. In his filings, he refers to them as “ancient”--and thus unnewsworthy. Brenner seems to reject that adjective--“ancient”-- as applied here.)

       SOBEL: Can I respond? [Sobel begins to discuss Schulmann…]

[At this point, Wendy briefly borrows my pen and tablet, and so my notes have a 2 minute gap.]

       BRENNER: (He reads aloud from Schulmann.)

       SOBEL: Carol directs Brenner to a section of Schulmann. The lawyers argue about the “standard” that must be met by the person who brings the suit. The judge favors Carol’s interpretation.
She refers to a “misdirected fax” (from Mr. B to the chancellor), which is cited by Mathur as evidence of my alleged “theft.” [The fax was a copy of a letter in which the district’s attorney, Spencer Covert, opines that Mathur had indeed violated federal law by distributing a student’s transcripts. In fact, Covert’s letter had been widely distributed on campus not long after it was sent by Covert to IVC.] The fax, she says, was sent to the chancellor two days after the publication of the first Dissent at issue in this case. There is no evidence that the fax even got to the defendant (Bauer). The faxed Covert letter never appeared in the newsletter. So where’s the evidence of theft?

       BRENNER: Brenner opines that the Dissent stories are newsworthy. Further, there’s “no showing” that the reports were untruthful “that I can see.” There “is no showing” that, in the case of this defendant, the papers were unlawfully obtained. The evidence doesn’t seem to be here.

       CORFIELD: Look at Schulmann. It isn’t about theft (?).

       BRENNER: You keep saying (that the defendant engaged in theft). But there’s no evidence.

       CORFIELD: We don’t have to prove that there was theft. He refers to 425.16 [California’s anti-SLAPP statute] and the Supreme Court.

       BRENNER: …Brenner asks (I think) whether there is evidence that the defendants (Bauer and Mr. B) conspired…
       Brenner says: I’ve denied these motions before, but the defendant [Bauer] is exercising his 1st Amendment rights. He is reporting on a matter of public interest.
Finally, Brenner says: I don’t think there’s any evidence…I will grant the motion [to dismiss Mathur’s suit].

       CORFIELD: [Corfield looks as though someone has stolen his Woody.] C sputters something about a “leave to amend.”(?)

       [Apparently, this “leave to amend” business is a desperate move on C’s part; Brenner responds as though Corfield has committed a faux pas. He indicates that he has made his ruling and that’s that.]

* * * * *

       Well, we left the courtroom, and we were pretty damned pleased. Jan, who was very impressed by Carol’s performance, stepped back from her and intoned: “I’m not worthy.” Others squealed or laughed. We wandered down to the hall to the elevators, talking and joking.
As we waited for the elevator to arrive, Mr. Corfield snuck up behind us and then rudely interrupted, asking Carol about Mr. B’s attorney, with whom he wanted to arrange a conference. Wendy turned to him and said that Corfield was looking for her. As he commenced speaking, Surfer Joe poked Wendy hard in the shoulder, like she was Annette Funicello or somethin’. She kicked sand in his face. (Well, not really. She was very professional.)
Next: attorneys’ fees. Fun fun fun! —CW


Dissent 47

March 20, 2000

MATHUR IN A LATHER: A SLAPP-SUIT COMEDY

By Big Bill B [Roy Bauer] 

            Background: on the 29th of February, Judge Michael Brenner of OC Superior Court granted a motion to dismiss Raghu Mathur’s lawsuit against me. Mathur had accused me of invading his privacy by reporting (in the January 11 & 19, 1999, issues of Dissent) his violations of a federal law that, ironically, protects the privacy of students. Brenner had ruled that the reports were “newsworthy” and that I should be afforded the protection of the 1st Amendment and California’s anti-SLAPP statute. Two weeks later, on the 14th of March, Judge McEachen, sitting in for Brenner, issued a ruling on Terry Burgess’ motion to dismiss (Burgess had also been named in the suit). Terry had been accused of conspiring with me to break into Mathur’s personnel file, thereby securing a copy of Larios’ reprimand of Mathur plus a legal opinion from the district’s attorney, Spencer Covert. According to Covert’s opinion, Mathur had indeed violated the federal law and district policy by distributing a student’s transcripts (in a failed attempt to discredit an administrator).
Mathur

The misdirected philosopher:

     MARCH 14: Addled by hypoglycemia and still hobbling from a nasty fall in the shower, I entered the big downtown court building, and, as usual, I didn’t get past the metal detector. At least they didn’t make me take off my shoes and belt, as they once did in the federal court building in LA!
     Eventually, they let me in, and I headed upstairs to the 3rd floor, but I couldn’t find the courtroom anywhere. I consulted a directory: Brenner was on the 5th floor, not the 3rd! I headed up, arriving fifteen minutes late, at about 1:45. Entering courtroom 112, I beheld a stranger on the bench: a Judge David T. McEachen. Evidently, McEachen had taken over for Brenner for the day.
     As I sat down next to Wendy, a pissed off lawyer was addressing the court about a company named “Paradigm.” “Paradigm took this money!” said someone, according to the lawyer. When the lawyer ceased yammering, Judge McEachen turned to the other guy, smiled benevolently, and said: “It’s your turn.”
     Meanwhile, Wendy wrote me a note that said that we’re number 15, and McEachen’s now on number 9, and it shouldn’t take him long to get to us, ‘cuz most people didn’t file their 378s. —Lawyers talk that way.
     The pissed off lawyer—a Mr. Burger—was fumin’ again, referring to another judge as “Black Jack Ryan,” which evoked laughter among the lawyers and bemusement or irritation from McEachen. The other guy responded with: “Mr. Burger will strike me if I’m wrong,” but he was wrong (I think), and Burger didn’t lay a finger on ‘im.
            The next case concerned “Mass Mutual.” “You got the tentative,” said McEachen to the attorneys.
Bauer

The tentative ruling:

            Maybe they got it, maybe they didn’t. Wendy wrote me a note, saying that there was a tentative ruling in our case, too , but she was unable to secure the damned thing. The day before, we learned of its existence but were told that “Brenner doesn’t issue tentatives.” It turns out that Corfield and his partner—Mr. Rovell—were in the same boat as us, the HMS Clueless.
            “Mass Mutual is taking it out of her hide,” said one lawyer, over on the right. The left lawyer, an Aussie in an ill-fitting suit, looked from my perspective (directly behind him) like he was standing at a urinal. The first guy—in his early 60s and dressed for a trip to Palm Springs—said he was “emotional” about the case. “I probably screwed up,” he confessed. They discussed the concept of “surprise.” “Surprise is not enough,” said someone.
I had no idea what they were talking about.
Suddenly lapsing into abominable incorrectness, someone spoke of the “lady lawyer up in Idaho,” but no one seemed to care. The Palm Springs guy seemed upset about the tentative judgment, which, he said, “is unjust in the extreme.” Then the Aussie stopped urinating, zipped up, and referred to the “shenanigans” of the Palm Springer, who, in response, pivoted slowly on his tasseled golf shoes with affected indignation. I looked over at the bailiff, who affected wariness, and then over at the court reporter, who affected consciousness. Blah blah blah, said the judge. My eyes glazed over. I lapsed into unconsciousness.

Love never had a chance:

      Right about then, Wendy shoved at me and ordered me to get the hell out of the way. Apparently, it was showtime! I gave her and Diana G, the other attorney, a wide berth as they filed past me and then through the little gate—into the “inner sanctum,” as Wendy calls it. This time, Brian Wilson (Corfield) was benched, replaced by his partner Mike Love (Mr. Rovell).
     Love never had a chance.
     McEachen, wasting no time, referred to the tentative ruling—the one we had not yet seen—as we studied his face for clues. He announced that our motion to strike—i.e., our motion to have Mathur’s suit dismissed—had been granted, at least in the tentative ruling, by Brenner. (Whoopee!) According to Brenner/McEachen, the plaintiff—that’s Mathur—had not met “his burden” of showing that he would probably prevail in court. (According to the anti-SLAPP statute, the plaintiff must show that he will likely win, or the suit is thrown out right at the start, and the defendant gets attorneys’ fees.) He had accused Terry and me of stealing “private” documents (a reprimand and a legal opinion) from Mathur’s personnel file, but, said the judge, there was no indication of where the documents in question had actually come from. (They sure as hell didn’t come from Mathur’s personnel file!)
    Last month, in her response (on my behalf) to Mathur’s complaint, Carol Sobel (my attorney) had argued that the Dissent articles about Mathur and the student’s transcripts were “newsworthy.” According to the new tentative, the plaintiff again hadn’t “controverted” that claim. Neither had he controverted the claim that Mathur is a “public official.” (I think Brenner even noted that, in the case of one document—the legal opinion by Spencer Covert—there is no evidence that I even received it. Maybe that was because, though the Dissent had referred to Covert’s opinion, it had never actually quoted from it.)
     The upshot: Slam dunkage.
     The judge closed with an analysis: “same facts, same result.” He was saying, I think, that Mathur’s opposition (his filed response to Terry’s motion to strike) simply repeated the failings of Mathur’s earlier opposition to my motion to strike. Ouch.

The Rovel grovel: a malarkey switcheroo

      Back on the 29th, Carol had argued that the anti-SLAPP statute, which is designed to counter the chilling effect of lawsuits against those who speak out against the powerful, applies in this case, and we had prevailed on that basis. The two issues of Dissent in question (January 11 and 19, 1999) reported that Mathur violated a federal law—FERPA—plus district policy. (Such, again, was the opinion of the district’s own attorney, Spencer Covert.) Essentially, Mathur’s lawsuit complaint was that I had violated his privacy by revealing this fact, which, he argued, was of no public interest.
     When in doubt, reverse gears! Now Mathur’s lawyers argued, not that I had revealed a fact, but that the fact was no fact. That is, though Mathur had indeed disseminated a student’s transcripts, that didn’t mean he violated FERPA (and district policy). I think the idea was that, since Mathur’s dissemination occurred “internal” to the college, it was not an illegal dissemination. In effect, Rovell and Co. were abandoning their original “privacy” malarkey in favor of “defamation” malarkey.
     Rovell yammered a bit about the anti-SLAPP statute and then focussed on the notorious January 13 (1999) “misdirected fax.” That was Burgess’ fax of the Covert opinion, which had been sent, accidentally, to the District! Evidently, on the 21st of January, Chancellor Sampson wrote Burgess concerning that fax, and Burgess responded with a letter dated January 29. Rovell now argued that, in the January 29 letter, in a key line, Burgess made an admission that shows that his more recent “declaration” (a sworn statement submitted to the court) is perjurious! (At that moment, Wendy, showing admirable self-control, refrained from socking Rovell in the jaw. I was impressed.)
      Rovell also referred to a declaration, in which an instructor describes the widespread availability of the Covert opinion by 1996 and its location in the academic senate’s files as part of the public record. Rovell rejected the entire declaration, arguing that its author’s opinion that these academic senate files are public is “entirely conclusory,” i.e., not supported by the facts.
      The Dissent reports were “offensive,” said Rovell, who began to shine with nervousness. He seemed to say that the Covert opinion was a matter of attorney/client confidentiality. (Rovell failed to notice that the opinion was not written for Mathur, but for the district, which had requested a legal opinion regarding the fellow’s actions.) Clearly, said Rovell, the reporting of the Covert letter (and Larios’ reprimand of Mathur) would be “offensive and objectionable to any reasonable person.”
      “Lastly,” said Rovell, we must address the matter of “newsworthiness,” regarding which there are “six elements.” One is the “social value” of the facts. Covert’s opinion notwithstanding, Mathur never violated federal law, said Rovell. “How can a false fact have a social value?” An instructor’s personnel file, he said, is “inviolate.” We’re talking about attorney/client documents, he said, inexplicably.
     At this point, the court reporter stopped Rovell, asking him to slow down. “Go ahead—slower,” said McEachen. Rovell, glistening with sweat, slowed down, but he kept shinin’.
Carol Sobel

Newsworthiness: that’s the key

     It was Diana’s turn. “Newsworthiness,” she said, isn’t the “last issue,” as Rovell suggested; it’s the “first.” Brenner had decided two weeks ago that the Dissent reports were “newsworthy,” that they had reported matters of “public concern.” How a public official performs his job—Mathur had been the Chair of the School of Physical Sciences at the time of his misconduct—is newsworthy.
     Diana referred to Burgess’ January 29 letter. If one reads Burgess’ comment in context, she said, it is clear that he does not acknowledge having ultimately sent the fax to Bauer. (In fact, I never received this document from Burgess.)
      Actually, it makes no difference, said Diana, who provided Bauer with the Covert letter, because the report of Mathur’s violations of FERPA were newsworthy, and that’s the key. Still, there’s no evidence that Burgess was the source.
            Diana referred to testimony that Covert’s legal opinion was “in circulation” around campus already in 1996. She referred to a declaration by an individual who had sent a letter to trustees in September of 1997; the letter included a copy of the Covert opinion. Clearly, Bauer could have received the Covert letter from many others besides Burgess.
            Diana noted that the plaintiff’s attorney is ignoring the three cases she cited in her motion, which delineate which publications constitute a violation of privacy. A misdirected fax, she says, doesn’t cut it.
            Diana reminded the court that it had already ruled that the facts reported in the two issues of Dissent were “newsworthy,” and so the plaintiff doesn’t have a leg to stand on. There is absolutely no evidence, she added, that Burgess (or Burgess and Bauer) “stole” documents from Mathur’s personnel file.
            The bottom line: the president of IVC, when the head of an academic department, violated district policy and federal law, said Diana. That is a matter of public concern, and that’s what Dissent reported. Further, “plaintiff has not and cannot dispute that Mathur is a public official.” Therefore, he cannot show, as he must, that he will probably prevail in this suit.

Yogi Berra:

            McEachen then gave Rovell an opportunity to provide a brief response. Brenner’s opinion of the 29th was “very unfortunate,” said Rovell. There’s an “abundance” of new facts that show, he added, that Mathur never violated the law. Diana’s point about Burgess’ January 29 letter relied on a “play on words,” said Rovell. Facts “can be true or false.” The facts reported in Dissent are false. Mathur does not deny that, internally, he sent around these transcripts, but that’s not illegal. Blah blah blah.
            Finally, the judge spoke. He said that he had read Brenner’s notes. And then: “I’m granting the motion. To quote the esteemed Yogi Berra, it’s ‘déjà vu all over again.’” BOOM!
            Out in the hallway, we yucked it up pretty good. When Corfield and Rovell approached us with outstretched hands, we shook ‘em. “If Brenner were here, he would have denied the motion,” said surfer dude Corfield. He was kidding, I guess.
            Diana, still hangin’ ten, called Carol with her cell phone. “Hey Carol, we’re done. We won,” she said. Wendy turned to me: “Yeah, they got thumped.”
            We walked with Diana downstairs. Out front, her ride drove up. She said: “Next, fees.”

            Yeah. —BBB

Dissent 46
March 6, 2000

FROGGY WENT ACOURTIN’

 Anony Mouse [a student, Jules B] 

            Though a long time student of IVC, I must confess that, until recently, I was largely oblivious to the district’s political strife. The February 29th court date wherein President Mathur and Professor Bauer would, through legal counsel, be allowed to argue their conflicting viewpoints, seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to learn more about it. And so I went.
            The hearing started with Professor Bauer’s attorney, Carol Sobel, making her case. As she spoke, president Mathur’s lawyer, a Mr. Corfield, seemed uncomfortable. He stumbled left a bit, stumbled right, swayed slightly, and finally assumed a slouch that seemed to indicate an enfeebled or drunken state, but his problem, as it turned out, lay elsewhere.
     After Sobel made her initial statement to the court, Corfield, suddenly emerging from his squirm ‘n slouch, offered a response, which was shockingly loud and accusatory. He announced that Professor Bauer was a thief—that he had stolen into Mathur’s personnel file.
     I was taken aback. Was this a criminal trial? –No, it wasn’t. Just then, Judge Brenner noted that Corfield had offered no evidence for this “thievery” claim.
     Corfield turned to plan B. He cited a case, which, he claimed, lowered his burden from having to show “clear and convincing evidence” that he would “probably prevail” in court, to just “stating his claim”. I think he cited Briggs. Interesting, I thought. Did Corfield think that he would not “probably prevail”?  If his case against Professor Bauer was so strong, then why didn’t he respond to Sobel’s motion to dismiss by showing the court evidence that he would indeed probably prevail?
     Sobel then made her move. Corfield had cited the middle of the Briggs opinion; but, according to Sobel (as I recall), the Briggs ruling was actually in line with Sobel’s earlier comments. The court confirmed Sobel’s assertion and, soon thereafter, dismissed President Mathur’s lawsuit against Professor Bauer.

     No wonder Corfield had been squirming so. He didn’t have a leg to stand on.  --AM

8-14: do you regret all the lying?

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Goals and Values and Twaddle

blather: long-winded talk with no real substance*
The whole concept of MSLOs [measurable student learning outcomes] as the latest fad in education is somewhat akin to the now discredited fad of the '90's, Total Quality Management, or TQM. Essentially, the ACCJC adopted MSLOs as the overarching basis for accrediting community colleges based on their faith in the theoretical treatises of a movement.... After repeated requests for research showing that such use of MSLOs is effective, none has been forthcoming from the ACCJC [accreditors]. Prior to large scale imposition of such a requirement at all institutions, research should be provided to establish that continuous monitoring of MSLOs has resulted in measurable improvements in student success at a given institution. No such research is forthcoming because there is none….
The Accountability Game…., Leon F. Marzillier (Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, October, 2002)
In the summer of ’13, I offered a critique of the awkward verbiage by which the district and colleges explain their values, goals, and objectives —aka SOCCCD'S G&V (goals and values) blather.
I wrote a post each for the district, Saddleback College, and Irvine Valley College efforts. (See the links below.)
This verbiage—stated in terms of “values,” “missions,” “goals,” “visions,” and whatnot—is often badly written. It is sometimes embarrassingly trite.
It occasionally communicates something worthwhile.
No doubt you are familiar with the usual objections to jargon. Higher education, too, has its jargon—an irony, given typical college-level instruction in writing, which urges jargon eschewery.
Sure enough, SOCCCD G&V blather is riddled with jargon and with terms misused and abused. For instance, in the case of the district’s dubious blather, the so-called “vision” is actually a purpose. Why didn't they just call it that?
As one slogs through this prattle, one finds that "visions" tend to be awfully similar to “missions,” with which they are distinguished. The latter in turn are awfully similar to “goals,” which must be distinguished from “objectives.” But aren't goals and objectives pretty much the same thing?
These perverse word games will surely perplex or annoy anyone armed with a command of the English language. In fact, readers will be perplexed to the degree that they are thus armed. Illiterates, of course, will be untroubled.
Here's a simple point: the district and colleges’ G&V blather tends to eschew good, plain English in favor of technical terms and trendy words and phrases (i.e., it tends to be bullshitty and vague). Thus, one encounters such trendy terminological turds as “dynamic,” “diversity,” “student success,” and “student-centered.” Even meretricious neologisms such as ISLOs and “persistence rates” pop up, unexplained, undefended.
Does anyone see a transparency problem with all of this? Shouldn't the public, or at least the well educated public, be able to comprehend statements of the colleges' goals and values?
In the case of the district, to its credit, all it really seems to want to say is that it wants to teach well and it wants students to succeed. Admirable!
So why all the ugly, common-sense defying, buzzword-encrusted claptrap?

Districtular poppycock: our “vision” and our “mission” and our tolerance of twaddle - July 31, 2013

THEY BUZZ: Saddleback College's "Mission, Vision, and Values" - August 4, 2013

IVC’s vision, mission, and goals: nonsense on stilts - August 5, 2013

THE IRVINE VALLEY CHRONICLES: no ideas, just clichés & buzzwords - Sep 30, 2013

*From my Apple laptop's dictionary