Dear Editor,

Since the district’s settlement of the pupil fees’ lawsuit is in the press now (https://www.smdp.com/schools-settle-supplies-lawsuit/210525), I would like to state publicly that I voted against the settlement and briefly explain my “no” vote.

While I am trained as a lawyer, I’m not a litigator, and that is by choice.  My first preference is always to work collaboratively to solve a problem; lawsuits are a last resort.  

I have believed from the beginning that this lawsuit was filed in bad faith, deliberately ignoring and bypassing state law and our Board policy, which establish a complaint process for addressing unlawful school-related fee claims.  The existing law is clearly intended to prevent this type of lawsuit unless absolutely necessary.  Dr. Drati’s press statement has properly emphasized this point.  

Had the appropriate legal process been pursued, legitimate claims could have been addressed and paid out long ago, as they should have been.   Instead, our district has been dragged down a completely unnecessary, lengthy and expensive path that was never about addressing the underlying issue or claims.  That could have been achieved quickly and at little to no cost to families or the district.  No one in this district wants to, or has ever, or will ever, condone charging unlawful pupil fees.  That certainly includes me.

This lawsuit has unnecessarily led to spending money on legal fees instead of on the education of students.  Reimbursement for any unlawfully charged fees could easily have been accomplished if that were truly the goal.  

In reality, actions taken in this case have mocked justice under the guise of promoting it.  To cite an example, one of the claims filed by the plaintiffs’ attorney on behalf of claimants sought $550,000 for allegedly bringing a student to school via helicopter, private school tuition, private tutoring and other private counseling services.  

Without describing every twist and turn of this lawsuit, suffice it to say that I followed my moral conscience and did not vote to support this settlement.  I don’t question the judgment of my colleagues who voted the way they did. I know they voted in good faith and for reasons articulated in the district’s press release.   But this case never should have been filed, never should have proceeded in this manner and could have been resolved in a much more productive, straightforward and fair manner, at far less expense to the district and the students we serve.

As a lawyer, I am painfully aware that our legal system contains many imperfections. Lawsuits are a last resort when genuinely trying to solve a problem.  This case represents one of several that never should have been filed.

Sincerely,

Laurie Lieberman, Vice president, SMMUSD Board of Education