Mountain View Voice

News - September 7, 2012

Can judge decide latest Bullis case?

Hearing over jurisdiction delays wrangling over charter school's facilities

by Nick Veronin

Attorneys for Bullis Charter School and the Los Altos School District are waiting for word from California Superior Court Judge Patricia Lucas on whether she has jurisdiction in the most recent legal fight between the two educational organizations.

If Lucas rules that she does have jurisdiction, Bullis will continue arguing its current motion to get the judge to compel the district to give the charter school a campus by next school year. If she decides she doesn't, Bullis officials must decide whether to file a new lawsuit or attempt to reach some sort of agreement with the district.

Arturo Gonzalez, attorney for Bullis, said he would hope the two sides could hammer out some sort of agreement without heading back to court, should Lucas rule she does not have jurisdiction.

However, he added, Bullis officials would want to get more space out of those talks, and fast.

"Time is of the essence," Gonzalez said. "If the district doesn't have any interest in talking, then that would leave only one option, and that would be to file another lawsuit."

Ray Cardozo, attorney for the district, said he does not know whether LASD officials would be open to going back to the negotiating table, but he did seem convinced that the district has already given Bullis more than required under a previous ruling.

"Bullis has been offered reasonably equivalent facilities," Cardozo said, adding that closing a neighborhood school to give to Bullis "is unfair to others" — an opinion that was echoed by LASD board member Mark Goines after the Aug. 30 hearing.

Goines said that the district is putting together a task force, led by superintendent Jeff Baier that will work to figure out solutions for the district's long term facilities needs, including how to deal with Bullis.

Day in court

This latest round of legal volleys between Bullis and the district took place Aug. 30, before a judge in a packed San Jose courtroom.

Lawyers from the charter school initiated the hearing by filing a "motion to compel compliance with judgment and writ."

In simpler terms, the motion is essentially a legal action intended to push the school district to cooperate and provide an entire campus to Bullis by the 2013-14 school year, and by immediately conferring with Bullis "in good faith to provide additional facilities at the Egan (Middle School) location," where Bullis plans to run its program in the 2012-13 school year.

Lawyers and representatives of the charter school believe this is what the district is required to do under a previous court order from October 2011. However, the district officials and legal counsel maintain that the district has done more than enough to satisfy last year's ruling, which was handed down by the California Court of Appeal for the Sixth District.

Before California Superior Court Judge Patricia Lucas can decide whether she will compel the school district to do anything, however, she must determine whether she has jurisdiction in the matter. Lawyers from the school district argued she does not.

Ray Cardozo, the school district's attorney, argued that the charter school needed to file another lawsuit. In an official response to the motion to compel, the district's legal team wrote that it objected to the charter school's attempt to "challenge the district's offer of facilities for the 2012-13 school year via a post-judgment motion," referring to the decision handed down by the appeals court ruling.

According to Cardozo, LASD officials have met the 2012-13 facilities requirements. "They've gone above and beyond" what was required, the lawyer said in an interview in the courthouse hall immediately following the hearing. "The district went too far in Bullis' favor."

But as Bullis attorney Arturo Gonzalez repeated in court and in a post-hearing interview, the district has not complied with the appeals court ruling and the charter school continues to sit on land that is not "reasonably equivalent," as required by Proposition 39.

While Gonzalez sought to convince Lucas that she ought to issue an order compelling the district to do more in order to comply with the October 2011 ruling, Cardozo repeatedly laid down the case that the district had already met the judgment and that the charter school could not go back and tack on more conditions. If Bullis officials disagree with the district's offer, he argued, they must file another lawsuit.

Based on the pointed questions the judge continued to ask Bullis' attorney, Cardozo believes the judge is likely to rule in the district's favor on this score.

"She's very concerned that Bullis has used the improper procedure, where they basically try to short-circuit the process of review of the offer," Cardozo hypothesized.

The charter school, he continued, "knows this is a good offer. It complies fully with the law, and they cannot undermine it except by using this legal hijinks, which they attempted today."

According to Gonzalez, however, it is the district that is engaging in elaborate legal maneuvering to dodge the fact that the facilities offered to Bullis are woefully inadequate.

Under the current offer, the charter school will be split between two campuses, even though Bullis officials maintain that they need all their students in one place to conduct their "comprehensive" K-8 program properly.

Furthermore, Gonzalez pointed out, the elementary school portion of Bullis is tucked away on a small corner of Egan Junior High School, and all the buildings available to the charter school are portable units.

"I'm disappointed that the district doesn't want to face the merits of the case," Gonzalez said. "I mean, the district has complained that the charter school is spending too much money on litigation and on lawyers.

"The district's argument today was one simple argument: We need to file another lawsuit. And I just find that intriguing. If the district has complied with the law, as they claim, then why are they afraid of having a court hear the arguments? If I were the district I would have wanted to get this over with. I would have said, 'Your Honor, we haven't done anything wrong. We've complied with the law. Let's do it!'"

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