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Orange Recall Effort Probed

Orange County

Elections: Son-in-law of school board member facing vote says a teacher gathered signatures in class. Another worker's residence is questioned.

June 09, 2001|H.G. REZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the Orange schools recall nears a vote, the district attorney's office is investigating two allegations of irregularities in gathering petition signatures.

The allegations involve the contentious June 26 election in which three Orange Unified School District board members will face a recall vote.

Christopher Rosenau--a vocational student and son-in-law of Martin Jacobson, one of the board members facing recall--says that a teacher circulated a petition in class last November. Suzanne Eiler, Rosenau's teacher, denied the allegation.

However, Deputy Dist. Atty. Pete Pierce said an investigation was opened based "on credible evidence that indicate some election code statutes were violated pursuant to the collection of signatures."

The district attorney's office looks into all allegations of voter irregularities. It is not uncommon for such allegations to be raised in local elections, but few cases are investigated for criminal wrongdoing.

The office also is investigating allegations that a signature-gatherer did not live within the district, as required by law, when she collected signatures last fall.

In the allegation involving the teacher, Rosenau says that Eiler "openly discussed with the students the union situation and how these people needed to be recalled" during a computer graphics class last fall that she teaches for the district's Regional Occupational Program, a vocational program largely for adults. He said that one student "to the best of my knowledge did sign the petition" although he did not witness the signing.

Eiler denied circulating the petition in class, but she acknowledged "probably having one at the time."

She said there may have been others with petitions gathering signatures near the Yorba Regional School, "but not on campus."

Paul Pruss, president of the teachers union called Orange Unified Education Assn., said Rosenau's charges are "another attempt to smear the teachers of Orange Unified." The teachers are a major force behind the recall. "To have this raised by Marty Jacobson's son-in-law really colors the issue," he said.

But Rosenau said he decided to step forward a few weeks before the election because it is the right thing to do, and denied that it is an attempt to derail the recall drive.

The allegation about the residence of a paid signature-gatherer involves Jennifer Frutig, the sister of Judy Frutig, former spokeswoman for the school district. Judy Frutig's job with the district was eliminated and she now works with the committee orchestrating the recall drive against Jacobson and fellow board members Linda Davis and Maureen Aschoff.

Jennifer Frutig registered to vote in Orange last November and collected petition signatures. But opponents have questioned whether she lives in the city. She could not be reached for comment.

Melinda Moore, co-chairwoman of the Orange Recall Committee, said the group did nothing wrong by hiring Frutig to collect signatures. Records show she was paid at least $750. "We did everything by the book," Moore said.

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