School Officials, Norgaard Spar Over Restraining Order Request

Attorneys for San Marino school board member Chris Norgaard said this week that a statement filed in court by Superintendent Alex Cherniss is a public smear against the longtime official and also disputed an assertion that Norgaard’s application for a restraining order was untimely.
Norgaard’s request for a temporary restraining order — the second he has filed this month in federal court, after an earlier application was rejected — seeks to allow Norgaard to take part in meetings with the four other school board members to evaluate Cherniss’ job performance, even though Norgaard is now suing all of them for alleged defamation and violations of his civil rights. Norgaard says that he was defamed by the public disclosure of two sexual harassment investigations involving him and that his rights to free speech and association were violated by his being excluded from Cherniss’ evaluation.
Lawyers with Los Angeles-based O’Melveny & Myers, which is representing all of the defendants, filed a motion opposing Norgaard’s bid for a restraining order on Friday, arguing that he waited too long to file the request, that Norgaard cannot show irreparable damage would result from his being barred from the evaluation and that public interest favors the defendants’ actions. The defendants include Cherniss, Assistant Superintendent Linda de la Torre and San Marino Unified School District Board of Education members C. Joseph Chang, Nam Jack, Lisa Link and Shelley Ryan.
Cherniss, board president Ryan and vice president Link each filed declarations detailing their stances, with Cherniss including a litany of emails and other documents that for the first time shed light on the timeline of events.
On Monday, Guy Glazier, a lawyer from the L.A. office of Glazier Yee representing Norgaard, filed a response that the delay in filing the first request for a temporary restraining order had more to do with the sudden manner in which the board voted to exclude Norgaard from the evaluation process. U.S. District Judge Fernando Olguin is expected to rule on the second application soon.
Glazier also described the opposition to the application as “long on irrelevant (and further defamatory) allegations” and said the defendants used their statements to “defame, harass, and intimidate Plaintiff by advancing baseless and inadmissible accusations and outright misstatements of fact extraneous and unrelated to Plaintiff’s application for injunctive relief.”
Cherniss’ court filing includes a timeline of the specific allegations that led to an investigation that began in January, copies of several related emails and the results of the first investigation conducted by Nicole Miller & Associates. Portions of the documents have been redacted to exclude names and the specific quotes or descriptions of some messages Norgaard allegedly exchanged.
According to Cherniss, de la Torre, who handles human resources matters for the district, received one written and one spoken complaint in January claiming Norgaard had kissed women on the lips, including during public district events.
Statements and emails in Cherniss’ statement also claim that Norgaard has sent “thousands” of emails and messages to one person in 2010 whose relationship to the district wasn’t made clear and that in 2015, a district employee complained he was sending her routine text messages during off-hours that had no relevance to work.
After Cherniss launched the investigation in January, Norgaard expressed his displeasure with having to conform to board policies requiring him to receive permission to enter school property and be escorted while on the premises. One exchange claims Norgaard violated these rules at one point by meeting with San Marino High School Principal Issaic Gates for roughly 40 minutes, and Cherniss threatened to have Norgaard arrested for trespassing if it happened again.
The investigation was made public in late January in a statement from Cherniss and de la Torre that identified Norgaard by name. Norgaard acknowledges that he told Cherniss that information about the investigation had should not be made public; Cherniss says in his individual filing that he took the statement to be a threat, but Norgaard says it wasn’t.
The first investigation concluded that most of the claims that Norgaard kissed district employees and also met with them periodically in their offices were substantiated, though it noted that none of the nine women who were interviewed perceived Norgaard’s actions to be sexually motivated and some felt he respected boundaries after the episodes that had made them uncomfortable. The report had noted that “Mr. Norgaard was commonly described as someone who at times fails to recognize professional boundaries and may not pick up on social cues in his interactions with others” and also “appeared to understand how his behavior could be perceived as a concern by the district.”
However, one complainant contacted de la Torre again by letter on April 2, after the investigation’s findings had been presented, and disagreed with the conclusion that she did not find Norgaard’s actions sexually motivated or that they weren’t “severe or pervasive.” The woman, a teacher, said Norgaard first kissed her on the lips while greeting her at the Hauntington Breakfast event in 2015 and did so again at an open house in 2016. She said she considered the second incident worse because it “validated that the first was not an accident.”
She also said Norgaard would frequently visit her at her classroom for talks unrelated to work and once invited her to join him at the city’s annual Fourth of July event. She ended the letter sent to de la Torre by declaring her intent to seek legal recourse.
This description of events matches the description of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office report on the findings of San Marino Police Department investigation that was launched at roughly the same time as the first investigation. That report indicated that a woman who made a statement to police indicated that Norgaard had contacted and kissed her in both 2015 and 2016, although she ultimately was not interested in pursuing misdemeanor criminal charges.
Cherniss launched a second school district investigation in April after receiving additional reports from a witness interviewed in the first investigation that Norgaard had continued making unannounced and uncomfortable visits to her at work and that Norgaard had apparently tried to contact family members of a former district employee. That investigation is ongoing.

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