UPDATED: Bullis Loses in Court, Still Liable For $51,000 Sanction

The Sixth District Court of Appeal denied both a stay of discovery and a petition to overturn Judge Patricia Lucas' discovery order and imposition of a penalty.


Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect Bullis Charter School attorney Arturo Gonzalez' clarification that a separate appeal on the $51,000 sanction has not yet been decided, and may not be for a while. It also includes the perspective of LASD attorney Ray Cardozo on the appellate court's action. 

A state appeals court denied two legal actions Thursday that had been brought by Bullis Charter School (BCS) in its effort to recover $1.3 million in attorneys' fees from the Los Altos School District.

The Sixth District Court of Appeal denied a writ of mandate BCS had requested, asking the higher court to overturn a discovery order and  to compel BCS to turn over discovery documents.

It also denied a request for a stay of that discovery order.

Details were slender, but both BCS and the Los Altos School District confirmed that the appeals court had turned down both of BCS’ petitions.

“We realize only about 5 percent of such requests are granted,” said BCS board member John Phelps of the appeals court decision. “So that it was declined was disappointing, but not surprising.”

He added, “We will abide by it.”

BCS may yet avoid paying the sanction. It has a parallel action that was filed last month because parties are allowed an appeal on sanctions, attorney Arturo Gonzalez said. That separate notice of appeal has not yet been scheduled for attorneys to file opening briefs, and may not be for a year, he said.

Thursday's denials from the court, however, meant BCS would have with Judge Lucas' November order. LASD had responded to BCS’ demand for attorneys' fees by questioning who was paying for the litigation and who would benefit. BCS had responded that the questions were intrusive and violated privacy rights. After conducting meet-and-confer sessions in which the school district eliminated requests for names and significantly scaled back its questions to what were the top 25 donation amounts and in what categories—parent, community member, etc.—the donors fell, Judge Lucas had ordered BCS to comply with discovery. And she granted sanctions to compel action by the middle of December.

In the second, the court rejected any suspension of the discovery.

By issuing summary denials of both—and so quickly after they were filed on Nov. 21—indicated the appeals court did not think Judge Lucas' order needed review, said LASD attorney Ray Cardozo.

BCS chairman Ken Moore, who had predicted BCS’ arguments would receive a more sympathetic hearing in the appeals court, was traveling and not available for comment. Phelps downplayed the decisions.

BCS’ overarching goal is to obtain a permanent solution to its right to reasonably equivalent facilities, he said, a goal helped last year by the Sixth District’s decision ordering LASD to provide such facilities and to improve its methodology for calculating space. BCS' recent legal petitions were made to seek "clarity" in a narrow aspect of its efforts to recover the $1.3 million in attorneys’ fees, he said.

Acknowledging that LASD’s questions had been scaled back during the meet-and-confer sessions enough to satisfy Judge Lucas, Phelps said BCS believed that even “a little bit of information can be reconstructed and we wanted to make sure we had exhausted the effort to protect the privacy of people.”

But Noah Mesel, a LASD parent and founder of the Huttlinger Alliance for Education, a group representing more than 1,000 LASD parent interests, said it appeared the the Court of Appeal had "decided that Judge Lucas got it right on the order compelling discovery and on the sanctions." 

Such a result is no surprise, said Mark Boennighausen, another parent who is also a lawyer, since "Judge Lucas is an experienced and widely respected trial court judge."

Mesel said the Court of Appeal had learned that “BCS's lawyer had the audacity to scoff at Judge Lucas's $51,000 sanction order,” telling a newspaper reporter …"that the monetary penalty was ‘Monopoly money' that LASD would never see." 

School Board President Doug Smith said he was glad the district had prevailed, and pointed out that it has prevailed in several of the court actions brought by BCS over the last several months.

“I would hope that everybody would look at this and realize the courts are not going to order a radically different course of action,” Smith said.

“Given the rulings, if we want a different outcome, we're going to have do direct energies toward dialogue instead of the litigation.”

Check back with Patch for updates on this story as we get further details.

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Joan J. Strong December 14, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Correction: the above should state, "Ken Moore's lawyers" not simply, "Ken Moore" in the attribution of the original "monopoly money" remark.
LASD Parent December 14, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Since most people don't have time to decipher the he-said-she-said of this ongoing dispute, the decisions of neutral third-parties like the Superior Court judge and Court of Appeals judges tell us a lot about which side is being reasonable. BCS continues to maintain that it is being shortchanged including for the current school year when LASD provided substantially more facilities. BCS argued to the court that even this most recent offer is unfair but the court did not agree. BCS is twisting the facts and trying to confuse the public. If you're not sure who to believe, believe the judges.
Concerned citizen December 14, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Joan J Pawn, Aren't the BCS lawyers acting for the benefit of BCS? I can see where it could be attributed to BCS (and specifically Ken Moore since he is the chairman of the board and its vocal spokesman).
Fed Up Resident December 14, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Just another defeat for the Lawsuit School, what the score now? I think 9 to 2. Sounds like they are having a bad season, well there always is next year. Funny how character starts to erode after so many defeats, arrogance the real culprit here has finally shown itself to the public and the court system. The sad thing is $51K is really just jet fuel for one of the Billionaires vacations. Can't wait to see the donation list.
Bart Carey December 14, 2012 at 06:17 PM
Litigation has never been the answer here, not for BCS and certainly not for our community. That is hardly saying much beyond the obvious. Time to lift the curtain of secrecy at BCS. The frustrating method of operation is that a public school that deserves significant public resources, and otherwise ties up a significant amount of additional public resources, is run by a entrenched and non-elected board that does not have the good of the public in mind. Further, at this point, they are in the mode of looking after a higher calling for charter schools, that even threatens to overlook the best interests of their own students. The $51K slap is an example of the board's lack of transparency and disrespect of the democratic process. Comparing the list of donors from both sides to this litigious mess would be enlightening.


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