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Ventura County Focus

Ojai Lawyer Disrupts Trustees' Meeting

October 30, 1996|REGINA HONG

An Ojai lawyer who wanted to discuss allegations that the county Board of Education had violated state law was instead ordered to leave the trustees' meeting after an almost 10-minute shouting match with board President Marty Bates.

Rudolph Petersdorf was cut short Monday night when he tried to broach the subject of a complaint he filed with the district attorney's office, alleging that Bates and trustee Wendy Larner had violated the Brown Act in late January.

Bates quickly ruled Petersdorf "out of order" and said the county counsel had advised that this was not a matter for the board to speak on because trustees could take no action on the subject.

The meeting quickly escalated into a shouting match, with Bates ordering Petersdorf to sit down.

"If you want to arrest me, do so," Petersdorf said. "I insist on my right to free speech."

"Please act like a gentleman and understand you are out of order," Bates responded.

The district attorney's office is investigating Petersdorf's Aug. 8 complaint in which he alleges that Bates and Larner met with attorneys during a visit to Sacramento, violating the Brown Act that requires governing bodies to conduct business in public.

Petersdorf thinks that the two board members spoke to lawyers about modeling the county board's policy after that of San Diego, where the superintendent is an appointed position, rather than elected as in Ventura County.

It's an allegation Bates contends has no merit. He points out that if the accusation turns out to be frivolous or politically motivated, the accused have a right to sue. At one point during the heated exchange, Bates called for a five-minute recess. When the meeting resumed, Petersdorf continued standing at the lectern and demanding his right to speak.

Bates and the board members tried to proceed with other business while Petersdorf continued talking.

The attorney left the building after the board passed a motion to table public comments.

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