Norgaard Seeks Restraining Order as He Sues District Officials

Lawyers for school board member Chris Norgaard are expected to refile paperwork this week seeking a temporary restraining order against his San Marino Unified School District Board of Education colleagues after they froze him out of the superintendent evaluation process in May.
In the meantime, those four board members, Superintendent Alex Cherniss and Assistant Superintendent Linda de la Torre also are the focus of Norgaard’s federal lawsuit alleging civil rights violations, defamation and emotional distress. Norgaard filed that lawsuit last week after having filed a similarly worded legal complaint against Cherniss, de la Torre and SMUSD in April.
Norgaard’s attorney, Guy Glazier, also applied for a temporary restraining order last week, but the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California has denied that application because it did not meet filing standards. The court asked that Glazier, should he refile it, take a different legal approach and properly present a persuasive case for needing the order.
“The court has simply asked us to follow a slightly different procedure to file a temporary restraining order,” Glazier said in a phone interview on Monday.
The requested restraining order will still demand that Norgaard be included in Cherniss’ annual evaluation, which began this month, despite Cherniss now being a defendant in Norgaard’s lawsuit. The other board members — C. Joseph Chang, Nam Jack, Lisa Link and Shelley Ryan — voted on May 8 to form a subcommittee to evaluate Cherniss without Norgaard, who had, by then, filed a legal complaint.
Norgaard is alleging a violation of his First Amendment rights, specifically to speech and association, and his 14th Amendment rights in the lawsuit; these violations also form the basis of his restraining order application, in which he argues for his right to associate with and speak in his capacity as a member of the school board.
“The immediate objective is to have me reinstated into the superintendent evaluation process,” Norgaard explained by phone last week.
Norgaard’s complaints stem from a publicly disclosed sexual harassment investigation conducted into his actions by SMUSD, and are further compounded by a second investigation into allegations he intimidated a witnesses.
Cherniss and de la Torre, in news releases sent to media in January, identified Norgaard by name as the subject of a sexual harassment investigation into allegations from current and former district employees. Simultaneously, the San Marino Police Department sent a similar news release to the media concerning a criminal battery investigation of a school board member, although it did not name Norgaard. (This is a standard practice in criminal investigations.)
Norgaard filed a legal complaint in April, following the close of SMPD’s investigation and the district’s first investigation, with SMUSD’s second investigation ongoing.
In his complaint and lawsuit, Norgaard denied even the existence of the harassment complaints which Cherniss said initiated the investigation. Norgaard cites the conclusions of the first investigation in this claim, although the contents of that investigation have not been made public for privacy reasons.
According to the suit, that investigation apparently concluded that none of the people interviewed deemed any actions by Norgaard to be sexually motivated or sexual in nature. This investigation was conducted by a third-party firm, Nicole Miller and Associates.
As for the SMPD investigation, Police Chief John Incontro said it is closed. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges because the victim who alleged Norgaard had contacted and kissed her inappropriately did not want to pursue criminal charges, according to documents.
The district’s second investigation is ongoing.
Norgaard says the public disclosure of the investigation has substantially affected his day-to-day life as a longtime resident of San Marino, as a longtime public official in San Marino and also in his capacity as a lawyer. The district’s policy for subjects of sexual harassment investigations require permission to attend functions on campuses and also administrative escorts for those activities, and Norgaard also has stated he was excluded from other community events because of the bad press his attendance might produce.
When the board was discussing creating subcommittees for Cherniss evaluation, a defiant Norgaard insisted he would be able to retain objectivity in spite of the public and legal spats and would discuss only facts about Cherniss’ performance, much of which was likely to reflect SMUSD’s continued ranking as the top district in the state. Notably, Norgaard had this past fall nominated Cherniss as a Los Angeles County Superintendent of the Year.
Norgaard’s peers, however, were unconvinced and created the subcommittee. They also created a separate subcommittee to address matters related to Norgaard’s legal filings against the district, which Norgaard more lightly protested because he already had voluntarily recused himself from those discussions.
Cherniss declined comment regarding the restraining order application or the latest lawsuit, but he has previously defended his actions and disputed Norgaard’s claims that no complaints against him existed.
Glazier said he expected a ruling on the restraining order “fairly quickly” and expected the legal parties to have a case management conference within 30 days of the defendants being served.

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