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Group Pressures College Officials to Pay Legal Fees

March 25, 2000|JEFF GOTTLIEB | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A new citizens group has demanded that several South Orange County Community College District officials repay the district more than $500,000 in fees resulting from their pursuit of policies that have led to a series of costly lawsuits.

The group, calling itself the Trustee Accountability Project, cites the fact that not only has the district had to pay for its lawyers but the courts have awarded attorney fees to the other side in several suits.

The district has been forced to defend itself against lawsuits involving violations of the state open meetings law and free speech, and disciplinary action ruled unconstitutional.

"We're tired of this group wasting taxpayer money," Marilyn Vassos, a member of the Trustee Accountability Project, said in a news release. "The board has lost one suit after another, yet continues to pursue doomed lawsuits. It's time to hold them individually responsible for this reckless behavior."

The group's demand, also made in a letter to the officials but carrying no legal weight, was dated March 3.

The college district's Board of Trustees will discuss the letter at its Monday meeting, although board President Nancy M. Padberg said Friday that she was sure the board would reject it.

Padberg called the demand "ridiculous. . . . I can't even respond to it. It's irresponsible."

Robert Myers, an attorney for the group, said that if the demand is rejected, the group could file a lawsuit, ask the district attorney or grand jury to investigate, or issue its own report.

The group already has filed a public records request asking for records of payments to attorneys, Myers said.

Those being asked to repay the funds are: Chancellor Cedric Sampson, Irvine Valley College President Raghu P. Mathur and trustees Padberg, John S. Williams, Dorothy Fortune, Donald P. Wagner and Steven J. Frogue.

The Trustee Accountability Project is not asking for payments from trustees David B. Lang or Marcia Milchiker because they have voted against the district's legal actions.

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