Settlement Conference Planned in Norgaard Dispute

Lawyers for a variety of San Marino Unified School District officials and the school board member who is suing them plan to meet for a settlement conference this month, a development that delayed a special school board meeting in which the plaintiff faced possible censure from his colleagues.
In addition, counsel for the defense filed a motion this week indicating its plans to request the dismissal of the lawsuit at a Sept. 6 hearing, citing what it says are shortcomings in the allegations.
Earlier, attorney Guy Glazier, who is representing school board member Chris Norgaard in his suit alleging defamation and constitutional rights violations by his fellow SMUSD officials, emailed a statement to media Thursday, July 26, signaling an agreement to put off the board meeting scheduled for the next morning.
“The parties involved have reached an interim agreement on terms identified in the proposed resolution so as to avoid the need for consideration of public censure, preserve the parties’ rights in the pending litigation and meaningfully participate in court-ordered mediation on August 21, 2018,” said Glazier’s email, which was also sent to opposing counsel.
The resolution in question was a proposed censure of Norgaard for alleged actions that resulted in two sexual harassment-related investigations against him and his apparent defiance of district orders to undergo remedial training on professional conduct. The school board, whose four other members are defendants in the suit, postponed the meeting until Sept. 7 after initially planning to meet at 9 a.m. Friday, July 27.
The settlement conference comes at the behest of U.S. District Judge Fernando Olguin, who is presiding over the lawsuit. He ordered that such a conference be held before the end of August after he determined that the plaintiff and defendants were likely to benefit from early mediation.
Norgaard’s lawsuit, which also names Superintendent Alex Cherniss and Assistant Superintendent Linda de la Torre as defendants, alleges he was defamed by the district’s investigation over reports that he had kissed multiple district employees at school events in previous years. Cherniss and de la Torre acknowledged the investigation in January in response to media inquiries, and Norgaard has consistently denied even the existence of allegations he’d committed sexual harassment.
In their statement, Norgaard was identified by name, a point that Norgaard has criticized in statements and legal filings.
The lawsuit also claims First Amendment violations in that colleagues barred him from conducting various duties as a school board member during the investigations. Norgaard also is claiming the district attempted to chill his rights to defend himself and denied him due process.
According to court filings, the first investigation concluded in April that the allegations that Norgaard had kissed district employees in an unwanted manner could be substantiated, but also that he did not seem to be sexually motivated in the alleged incidents. Investigators also believed Norgaard would respond to training on professional conduct, as they believed his actions were a result of his blurring the line between personal and professional behavior.
A second investigation was launched shortly afterward, in response to new claims that he had intimidated the initial complainants, the district said; court filings by Cherniss also claim Norgaard made a veiled threat against the superintendent about public disclosure of the investigation. Norgaard has also denied those allegations.
According to the censure resolution that was to have been taken up, the second investigation appears to have substantiated claims as well.
The other board members — C. Joseph Chang, Nam Jack, Lisa Link and Shelley Ryan — voted to form two subcommittees in April, one to address Norgaard’s lawsuit and the other to conduct Cherniss’ annual evaluation. Norgaard protested both subcommittees, even as his peers argued he had a conflict of interest regarding Cherniss’ evaluation because, by that point, Norgaard had filed a legal claim against Cherniss and de la Torre.
The other board members also said in a public statement that they supported the district’s actions in investigating the allegations.
Olguin denied Norgaard’s request to be included in Cherniss’ evaluation in a June ruling, after which Norgaard removed a claim from his lawsuit related to his exclusion.
The San Marino Police Department closed an investigation into Norgaard after the Los Angeles County district’s attorney’s office declined to file battery charges against him. The case’s primary victim, who said he contacted and kissed her inappropriately on two occasions, did not want to press charges; misdemeanor cases are heavily dependent on witness or victim testimony.
SMPD did not initially identify Norgaard by name.
Court filings indicate at least one woman is mulling her own legal action against Norgaard and the district. A letter to district officials that was filed indicated she was interviewed for the first district investigation and disagreed with the conclusions. Her description of events also lines up with the events described by the police investigation’s witness.
The Los Angeles law firm O’Melveny and Myers is representing Cherniss, de la Torre and the other board members.
The firm’s motion to dismiss was filed Monday of this week and claims, among other things, that Norgaard has failed to substantiate his claims of First Amendment and due process violations.

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