Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The NCT may have fooled some readers into thinking that a MiraCosta College mediator spoke with the authority of a judge

See MiraCosta College posts.

San Diego's retired judge David B. Moon, Jr. is not a judge, he's a mediator-for-hire. He is famous in some circles for his successful efforts to help employers get away with mistreating employees. However, when the employee in question is someone who has run an organization, and has worked closely with the lawyers for the organization, it seems that Mr. Moon does his best to get the employee an extremely good deal. In the case of MiraCosta College, a appeals court has ruled that the deal Moon got for former college president Victoria Richart was so generous that it was illegal.

Mr. Moon's statements should be given no more weight than those of any other mediator who is paid to be biased. But the North County Times, by focusing on his status as a retired judge, makes it sound like his personal opinion has some special value:

"...before the 2007 settlement, a retired judge retained by the college board found that Richart had a valid claim for damages against MiraCosta and some of its trustees worth 'in excess of $2 million'" (emphasis added).

Reporter Paul Sisson should have described Moon as a mediator, not a judge.

Across town, the San Diego Union-Tribune has broken the link to the following story it published on the same subject:

"This is Google's cache of http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2010/aug/13/judge-says-former-miracosta-president-must-repay/. It is a snapshot of the page as it appeared on Aug 14, 2010 00:28:07 GMT. The current page could have changed in the meantime.

Judge says former MiraCosta president must repay $1.3 million
Friday, August 13, 2010 at 5:05 p.m.

A judge has ordered the former president of MiraCosta College to repay about $1.3 million in compensation she has received from the college district under a 2007 settlement in which she agreed to step down and waive her right to sue over employment issues.

Victoria Muñoz Richart and the district agreed to a $1.6 million settlement after the faculty cast a no-confidence vote against her over her investigation into the illegal sale of palm trees that belonged to the college.

Leon Page, an attorney who lives in Carlsbad, quickly sued, contending that state law prohibits public agencies from granting more than 18 months’ worth of salary and benefits in terminating contracts.

He lost at the trial level, but in November the 4th District Court of Appeal agreed that the deal was an unconstitutional gift of public funds and declared the settlement contract void. The appellate court sent the case back to Superior Court to sort out what to do next.

In his ruling, Judge William S. Dato said the solution is to return the parties to the status they had before the agreement was reached, ordering Richart to repay the money within 90 days and reinstating her right to pursue legal claims against the district.

“Technically, she is also relieved of her obligation to step down as president of the district, but the significance of that fact is far from clear,” Dato wrote, noting that the college has a new president (since March 2009) and that “it is unlikely Richart would want to resume the position even if the district board was willing to permit it.”

The ruling also ordered the district to withhold the approximately $300,000 remaining to be paid under the settlement.

Neither Richart nor her attorneys could be reached for comment Friday.

“This was an abusive, corrupt bargain,” Page said of the deal he torpedoed, saying his role was to stand up for the college and taxpayers “since nobody else did.”

Although he has no role in any future dealings between Richart and the Oceanside-based district, Page said, “I think now this can very easily be settled.”

He said he envisions a scenario in which Richart is able to “hold back” some of what she has been paid.

“I don’t think it’s necessary to squeeze every last penny out of Victoria,” Page said.

Michael Gibbs, an attorney for the college district, said that while there have been no discussions since Dato released his ruling Thursday, a settlement is possible.

“I am sure there will be a good-faith effort to reach a resolution,” he said.

And if that doesn’t happen, there “may well be” more litigation in the case, he said.

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