Friday, January 17, 2014

Advice to Doug Luffborough: don't go down the same path as CVESD trustees Pam Smith, Larry Cunningham and Bertha Lopez

Chula Vista Elementary School District
board member Dough Luffborough

Doug Luffborough's photo from attorney
Peter Fagen's Google+ page on Jan. 17, 2014.
The page seems to have been taken down since then.

I got interested in Mr. Luffborough when he was attacked for his work promoting Common Core. I believe that criticism was caused by teachers who simply didn't know how to teach basic concepts, and who transferred their anxieties to their students. Common Core is a carefully-designed approach to education to help the United States compete with countries that already use these successful methods.

But there is something about Mr. Luffborough that troubles me: his "friendship" with lawyer Peter Fagen of Fagen Friedman Fulfrost.

Attorney Peter Fagan of
Fagen Friedman Fullfrost;
also, see posts on education attorneys.

I worry that Mr. Luffborough may be headed in the unethical direction of Pam Smith, Larry Cunningham and Bertha Lopez (yes, that Bertha Lopez). Smith, Cunningham and Lopez maintained an unethical relationship with Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz for many years.

In 2005 Smith, Cunningham, and Bertha Lopez apparently authorized public CVESD funds to be spent on protecting the law firm from obstruction of justice charges in a lawsuit to which CVESD was not a party! What law firm was used to protect Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz? Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz!

Pam Smith, CVESD board member and
Director of San Diego County
Department of Aging

Then in 2009 Pam and Larry spent public funds again to protect themselves from having to testify in a private defamation lawsuit brought by their pals at Stutz law firm against this blogger (Maura Larkins). They hired lawyers to quash deposition subpoenas they had received. What law firm was used? Once again, to Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz.

Larry Cunningham

It should be noted that public entities are not allowed to sue for defamation; obviously, they also should not use public money and their status as public entities to support private defamation suits.

But wait, you say. How do I know that CVESD actually paid Stutz? Is it possible that Stutz filed secretly on behalf of CVESD in the first case above, pretending that CVESD was supporting the firm, without ever asking for money from CVESD for filing the paperwork? Well, that would be quite outrageous--are you suggesting that Stutz not only fraudulently filed the papers, but also fraudulently used CVESD's status as a public entity to avoid paying the court filing fee for those papers?

I was curious, so I did a public records request for San Diego County Office of Education--JPA's billing invoices for the case.

SDCOE Risk Management Director (and former
lawyer with Stutz law firm) Diane Crosier
did not provide ANY billing invoices for 2005.

Here's how Diane Crosier responded:

Invoices for the Stutz firm relative to work done for Chula Vista Elementary School District from January 1, 2005 through January 1, 2006 - we have no documents responsive to this request.

It appears that Stutz did not make a request for payment through San Diego County Office of Education JPA. And how could it? The school district was no longer a party in the case.

So I did another public records request, this time to CVESD, to find out if CVESD had paid Stutz directly, rather than through its liability insurer SDCOE-JPA. CVESD did not provide any record showing that it had paid Stutz for the work.

Bertha Lopez (indicted as Sweetwater
trustee in 2013) should have stayed
at CVESD, remaining safely under Bonnie
Dumanis' radar along with
Pam Smith and Larry Cunningham.

But if Stutz had secretly used CVESD's name to perpetrate a fraud on the court, why would CVESD continue to do business with Stutz? I provided all this information to CVESD years ago, but CVESD has continued to offer contracts to Stutz.

It's hard to figure out, isn't it? I have a couple of thoughts. First, any obstruction of justice by Stutz would have been done on behalf of CVESD. So CVESD would have an interest in keeping any such question from being examined in court. Also, perhaps Smith, Cunningham and Lopez were anxious to shut down my website. Stutz may have pleased them enormously when it filed its private defamation lawsuit against me. And friends don't expose friends' wrongdoing, right?


One might ask why Smith and Cunningham did not simply come forward and willingly testify on behalf of Stutz law firm in the defamation case. (See all SDER blog posts about the case HERE.) Clearly, they were afraid that wrongful actions by themselves and Stutz would come to light.

Pamela Smith was so afraid of being deposed that she refused to come out and take her seat at the CVESD board meeting when she learned that board members were being served the deposition subpoenas at the meeting. The public waited and waited for Ms. Smith to appear, and finally David Bejarano left his chair and went into the back room. Perhaps he explained to Mrs. Smith that it is illegal to evade service of a subpoena, and it is especially unbecoming in a public official, and that the subpoena could simply be served on CVESD after three failed attempts to serve Ms. Smith in person. A short while after Mr. Bejarano returned, Mrs. Smith came in and was served.


School board members who are pals of law firms can be a huge asset to those firms, but not necessarily to the public. Board member Kelli Moors in Carlsbad recently caused a scandal when she received a huge reward--a cushy job-- shortly after voting to renew the law firm's contract. The district ended up rescinding it's decision to rehire Fagen, Friedman Fulfrost. Yes, that's the same firm that has made "friends" with Doug Luffborough. What exactly is it that caused Mr. Luffborough to make friends with CVESD's lawyer? A genuine, personal connection? Or something else?

Another possible service that can be provided by friends on school boards is back-channel communications of messages that a lawyer would never dare utter on the record during a meeting, even a closed-door session. (Unless, of course, the lawyer had first advised the board NOT to record the session even though the district attorney had requested that the session be recorded, as Dan Shinoff did HERE.)


I'm still trying to figure out how Dough Luffborough fits into all this. According to his website, "His core values and belief in faith, discipline, action, and hard work" account for the recognition he has received.

But what are his core values?

Clearly, Dough Luffborough is successful. And he is a role model for how to rise in this world. But besides his own success, and his efforts to help other individuals follow in his path, what exactly are his goals? There are lots of different types of success. For example, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have both been successful, but their goals were very different. In fact, their goals were almost diametrically opposed.

Seriously, what are Doug Luffborough's goals?

From Doug Luffborough's website:

Doug Luffborough is an over-comer! Raised by his mother, a housekeeper, Doug grew up in an impoverished environment. As the oldest son in a single parent family, he was thrown into the role of father figure to his three younger siblings while lacking a strong male role model for himself. Doug’s greatest ambition was to become the first member in his family to attend college – a dream challenged when his family became homeless during his senior year in high school. Despite homelessness and discouragement from his guidance counselor to attend college, Doug continued to work hard and was eventually accepted into Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts to pursue a Business and Human Resources Management degree.

Five years later he was chosen as the Student Commencement Speaker for his class and preceded then President of the United States, Bill Clinton. President Clinton was so impressed with Doug’s tenacity and drive that he invited him and his mother to the White House.

After working with a national community service organization, Doug went back to school to receive his master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education with a concentration in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy. After Harvard he was chosen to receive a Fellowship degree from the prestigious Center for Social Innovations at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, Executive Program for Non-Profit Leaders. Currently, Doug is getting his PhD at the University of San Diego School of Leadership Studies with a concentration in Nonprofit Management and Leadership Consulting.

Doug has spent over 20 years working with organizations as a leadership consultant, social entrepreneur, and advocate for social change. Extremely devoted to youth development and family empowerment, he has created and directed social service programs throughout the United States and Asia.

Doug was recently recognized as a recipient of the esteemed San Diego Channel 10 Leadership Award as a caring resident “who goes above and beyond to make San Diego a better place to live by improving the quality of life for those who need it most.”

His core values and belief in faith, discipline, action, and hard work led to special appearances at the Fleet Center (formerly the Boston Garden), the White House, the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, and the Crystal Cathedral’s “Hour of Power” television broadcast. Doug’s life is a tale of inspiration and hope for the American dream which has impacted hundreds of institutions and thousands of young people across the world.

Today he lives in Chula Vista, CA with his wife Claire, daughters Faith Lily, Makenna Joy, Micaela Elsa and Meilani Lea, and son Douglas Dante. Currently, Doug serves as Chief Managing Consultant and School Board President with the Turning the Hearts Center and the Chula Vista Elementary School District.

Partial Client List

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Iota Alpha Omega Chapter, Poughkeepsie, NY.
Antelope Valley Youth Mentoring and Education Task Force, Lancaster, CA.
Aroma Housewares, Co., San Diego, CA.
Boston Public Schools, Boston, MA.
City Year, Inc. (Nationwide), Boston, MA.
Communities In Schools, McAllen, TX.
Cornerstone Church of San Diego, National City, CA.
Crystal Cathedral “Hour of Power," Garden Grove, CA.
Education, Training & Research Associates, Santa Cruz, CA.
Fleet Center, Boston, MA.
Francis Parker Upper School, San Diego, CA.
From the Barrio Foundation, Chicago, IL.
GEAR UP (Nationwide), San Diego, CA.
Gear Up for Excellence, Phoenix, AZ.
Harvard University Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA.
Holy Name High School, Worcester, MA.
IDEA Public Schools, Donna, TX.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston, MA.
LA Conservation Corps, Los Angeles, CA.
Los Angeles Unifield School District, Beyond the Bell Afterschool Programs, Los Angeles, CA.
Maine State GEAR UP, Rockport, ME.
Mesa College, San Diego, CA.
National Univeristy Academy, San Diego, CA.
Northeastern University Residential Life, Boston, MA.
Office of Family Planning of Health Services, Sacramento, CA.
Oval Office of the White House, Washington, DC.
Pine Street Inn, Boston, MA
Quinsigamond Community College, Worcester, MA.
Renaissance Learning, Inc. National Conferences, Orlando, FL.
San Diego City Schools, San Diego, CA.
San Diego Mesa College, San Diego, CA.
San Diego State Upward Bound, San Diego, CA.
San Diego Urban League, San Diego, CA.
San Diego County YMCA, San Diego, CA.
Simon Scholars Program, Santa Ana, CA., and Atlanta, GA.
S.T.E.M. Summer Bridge, Mt. San Jacinto College, Menifee, CA.
Seeds Training, La Jolla, CA.
Stanford Graduate School of Business Executive Program for Non-Profit Leaders, Palo Alto, CA.
Sweetwater Union High School District, Chula Vista, CA.
Teach For America, McAllen, TX.

U.S. Department of Labor, Washington, DC.
United Way of Dutchess County, Poughkeepsie, NY.
UMass Amherst, Amherst, MA.
University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA.
Walnut Hill School for Performing Arts, Natick, MA.
Warm Springs Middle School, Murrieta, CA.
Western Wyoming Community College, Rock Springs, WY.
Woodcraft Rangers, Los Angeles, CA.
Worcester Public Schools, Worcester, MA.
Young Presidents Organization, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia

William J. Clinton
Remarks at a Meeting With Doug Luffborough and an Exchange With Reporters
July 1, 1993

The President. Hello, everybody. Those of you who travel with me regularly will, I think, recognize the young man on my right, Mr. Doug Luffborough. He was the student speaker at Northeastern University in Boston the other day. This is his mother, whom I introduced from the audience; got a big hand. He's here with President John Curry of Northeastern and Senator John Kerry, his Senator. I invited him and his mother to come visit me in the Oval Office, so they didn't wait long to take me up on the invitation. [Laughter] I'm glad to see them here today.

You may remember also that he brought the house down. He not only gave a great speech, but he sang at the beginning of his speech. I thought to myself, if I could sing like that I wouldn't be giving speeches today. [Laughter]

Mr. Luffborough. Well, it was a wonderful opportunity for me and a wonderful opportunity for my family and especially for my mother. I've been waiting for an opportunity like this, and I'm just really thrilled. And I'm really glad that Northeastern was the place you decided to come. It's been a pleasure and an honor to be here today. Thank you.

Q. Mr. President, what was it about Doug that impressed you so much?

The President. First of all, that he had come from such humble circumstances to go to college and to stay in college and that he had made the most of it. He obviously never felt sorry for himself. He obviously had a mother who helped him to believe in himself, as many others do. And the fact that his fellow students picked him to be the spokesperson for their class showed that they identified with the values and the inner strength and drive that took him to the success that he enjoys. I was very impressed. And I just thought it would be neat if they could come down here and see me.


Left to right: Left to right: Russell Coronado (moved out of town and was replaced by Glendora Tremper), Former superintendent Lowell Billings, Larry Cunningham, Pamela Smith, David Bejarano (came to board in 2007, replaced by his daughter in 2012), Doug Luffborough (came to board in 2009); four out of five current members came to office without running for election.

Chula Vista school board: Pre-meeting sessions raise questions about open meeting violations
Donal Brown
First Amendment Coalition
September 2010

The Chula Vista Elementary school board says that their gatherings before board meetings in the superintendent’s office to eat take-out food and to ask one-on-one questions of the staff are open to the public and not in violation of California’s Brown Act, the state’s open meeting law. -db

San Diego Union-Tribune
September 2, 2010
By Ashly McGlone

Chula Vista Elementary school board members have been gathering in the superintendent’s office before their public meetings, asking questions about agenda items and eating restaurant take-out food paid for by taxpayers.

State law generally requires elected officials to post public notices so citizens can attend when public business is discussed with three or more board members. But district officials say the pre-meeting sessions are not subject to those requirements.

The practice raises the possibility that a consensus could be reached in private, depriving the public of the right to know what went into board decisions.

The Watchdog reviewed minutes of all board meetings from December 2008 to the present. Of 130 motions, 129 passed unanimously. The one split vote, in February, concerned the order of agenda items.

Records obtained by The Watchdog under the California Public Records Act reveal $2,035 in meals have been billed to the district’s general fund since December 2008.

According to board vice president Larry Cunningham, food is “always there. If we have a board meeting, it’s there.” He said the meals have been standard practice since he joined the school board more than 16 years ago and no one has ever raised a concern.

The informal gatherings give board members a chance to grab a bite to eat and get their questions answered by staff members, Cunningham said.

“If you have a question to ask staff, you have a chance to go ask staff about that. It is nothing. We don’t meet with closed doors. The doors are always open,” Cunningham said. “We find it is easier to do that than ask a lot of questions at board meetings. We feel the board meetings are there for input for the public.”

Max Batangan, assistant to the school board and the superintendent, distributes meeting agendas and notifies members of any changes, according to the superintendent and board members.

Superintendent Lowell Billings, who is set to retire in December after nine years as superintendent, said, “It is a staging for the main board meeting which is held in open session. Meaning, you gotta have a place to show up, and I hold it in my office, so I am the gatekeeper.”

Generally, board members said the meeting allows them to ask one-on-one questions of staff members for clarification.

“I read the packet myself. The protocol is to take any questions to the superintendent or other district staff for more verification or information,” board member Douglas Luffborough said.

The idea of one-on-one questions may be a key distinction, experts said, as any group discussion of issues in the pre-meeting would be forbidden under the state’s open-meetings law, known as the Ralph M. Brown Act.

[Maura Larkins comment: How can it be one-on-one, Doug, if all your fellow board members are present?]

Dan Hentschke, a former Oceanside, San Marcos and Solana Beach city attorney and current general counsel for the San Diego County Water Authority, conducts trainings for elected officials on open-meetings law. Briefings on changes to the night’s agenda could be an issue, he said.

“Updating collectively, that’s a problem,” Hentschke said. “If they are hearing collectively information, that should be held in an open meeting.”

“These kinds of meetings are ones that we use as an example of ones that can be very problematic,” Hentschke said. “The law is very clear that gatherings of a majority of a legislative body have to be open-noticed and public if there is any discussion among the board members of public business. Gatherings of this nature can be held in compliance, but it is very difficult because they cannot talk about matters of agency business.”

Attorney Michael Jenkins, chair of Brown Act Committee for the League of California Cities, also said that a notification of agenda changes would be considered school business.

“Under the Brown Act they are not allowed to hear, discuss or deliberate on any matter of district business. That’s a problem because that’s business that pertains to the school district. It’s just not a good idea to have them all together,” he said. “I can’t say if their particular practice is a violation. I will say it could be under certain circumstances that they need to avoid.”

Theresa Acerro, president of the Southwest Chula Vista Civic Association and a retired teacher, said, “I would be really concerned about that. I think those questions should be asked in a public meeting because it is likely that members of the public would have those same questions.”

Former district board member and retired economics professor Peter Watry, 79, also expressed concern over the board dinners. Watry — who said the meals were not present when he served on the board from 1976 to 1980 — currently serves as vice president and acting president of the nonprofit Crossroads II, aimed primarily at monitoring land use decisions by the Chula Vista City Council.

“If they are following the Brown Act, they shouldn’t be doing it,” said Watry. “Even that one-on-one gets tricky. If you talk to a third person, you violate the Brown Act. My guess is they are just not paying attention to the strictness of the rules, but they should not be doing it.”

A favorite meal for the board sessions was the $110 large kabob pack from Daphne’s Greek Cafe. Other meals came from China China restaurant and Pat & Oscar’s. Some food was also prepared by the district’s Child Nutrition Services.

The spending on meals comes despite the financial issues facing most school districts in the state.

At Chula Vista, managers are taking seven furlough days this academic year and next, while classified staff will take two to six furlough days and teachers will take 5.5 furlough days, two of which are class days shortening the school year. No furloughs were in place last year.

Also, this year is the first year the district’s 20:1 class size cap has been removed. Average class sizes this year are 19.9 children for kindergarten through third grade, and 28.9 children for fourth through sixth grade. Last year’s average was about 18 students.

Billings said the food is for board members and other district staff but members of the public could come to the pre-meetings.

“Anybody can walk in and see them and I am there to be the sergeant of arms of board members,” Billings said.

[Maura Larkins' comment: This means, and I speak from personal experience, that anyone can walk in, but Billings will tell them to leave if he doesn't want them to hear what's going on--or he doesn't want the visitor to be heard.] But Acerro countered, “That’s no public meeting, and besides they have to have publicly notice meetings, and if it’s not a meeting, they shouldn’t be all together discussing school business,” she said.

Billings contends there is no Brown Act violation.

“Everybody in the work knows that these meetings take place. They are really not meetings, but a gathering place,” Billings said. “If a board really wanted to violate the Brown Act, they would be more secretive or subversive or meet in a covert matter.”

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