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Military School Skirmish Ends With Settlement

Orange County

Crean and board at Carlsbad academy will resign to stop a suit that sought to oust them.

July 19, 2003|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

Johnnie R. Crean, the besieged chief executive and chairman of a private military academy in Carlsbad, will resign with his board of directors to end a lawsuit filed by parents and academy alumni critical of his leadership.

The settlement, signed by the parties this week, must be approved by San Diego County Superior Court Judge Thomas P. Nugent and state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer. A hearing on the case scheduled Friday in Vista was canceled after the settlement was announced.

"The end result is largely what we sought in the lawsuit," said attorney Michael Winsten of Laguna Niguel, who sued on behalf of parents and Stephen M. Bliss, a retired brigadier general and academy president. "Everyone is doing what's in the best interests of the academy and the students. It's a very mature result."

Filed in February, the suit asked Nugent to oust Crean and his board of directors from their control over the Army and Navy Academy.

It largely targeted Crean, 53, a former Orange County congressional candidate and president of Alpha Leisure, a recreational vehicle manufacturing company in Chino. His behavior was described in the suit as unsafe, reckless, bizarre, erratic, violent, vulgar, despotic and paranoid.

The suit alleged that edicts from Crean, such as barring adult chaperons from living in dorms that house more than 270 boys, endangered cadets' safety and the school's accreditation. His profit-sharing plan, which shifted fund-raising duties to faculty, was illegal and threatened the school's nonprofit status, the suit contended.

Michael Attanasio, who represented Crean and the board, said the settlement was fair. "The board of directors looks forward to a prosperous future for the academy and wishes the new board and Gen. Bliss great success in bringing that about."

Other parties declined to comment, saying they had agreed to let only the attorneys speak as part of the settlement.

The agreement installed Bliss as the academy's interim CEO. He will appoint an advisory board to help him until a new board is chosen for the 93-year-old school, which overlooks the ocean on a 16-acre campus.

The school houses 276 boarding students, ages 12 to 18. An additional 38 boys are day students. Its annual operating budget is $6.5 million, fueled by $25,000 annual tuitions.

Crean, who became chairman and CEO in 1994, argued that he brought business savvy and better management to the school, where he graduated in 1967. He attended the academy at the urging of his father, Republican donor and philanthropist John R. Crean, who founded the recreational vehicle company Fleetwood Enterprises.

Most of the school's faculty and staff of 80, plus the boards of a parent support group and the alumni association, signed letters and petitions demanding that Crean and his board resign. They complained of high turnover among students and faculty, and of a " 'Lord of the Flies' mentality" where drug use, hazings and theft were rampant.

Among evidence of Crean's behavior cited by the lawsuit was his misdemeanor conviction last year for carrying a loaded gun into the Orange County courthouse in Santa Ana -- a crime he dismissed as a "senior moment" shortly after his arrest.

In 2001, the school's former dean of admissions accused Crean of sexual harassment, and the academy paid an undisclosed sum to settle the case.

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