Randy Burgess And CUSD Remain Locked In Legal Battle - Coronado Eagle & Journal | Coronado News | Coronado Island News: Coronado Island News

Randy Burgess And CUSD Remain Locked In Legal Battle

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Posted: Monday, January 27, 2020 3:27 pm

The legal battle between former Coronado High School Teacher and Water Polo Coach Randy Burgess and the Coronado Unified School District (CUSD) continues, with the latest development being Burgess and his attorney Matt Herron having filed an appeal to overturn a ruling to dismiss his libel case against CUSD. “We filed the appeal in August 2019 and the brief is due next month. There will be a hearing on the brief and an oral argument. The Court of Appeals decides if the judge properly dismissed the case.”

Before relating Burgess’ thoughts on the legal actions, it should be noted that an attempt was made by this columnist to obtain a comment from CUSD Superintendent Karl Mueller regarding the legal actions. Mueller responded that “CUSD will not comment on pending litigation.”

Burgess, who worked for the Coronado Unified School District for 33 years, and his wife Claire have temporarily re-located to a home on the windward side of Oahu, Hawaii. Burgess said that while he is in Hawaii, he’s getting a chance to visit with kids he had a chance to coach and teach. He added, “I have a lot of connections through water polo and I became involved immediately with the NCAA working games at the University of Hawaii as a referee evaluator. It keeps me busy and I’ll have some work with local high schools officiating. The girls water polo starts in February so there is plenty to do out here. I’m looking forward to getting bored. I get to spend time on the beach and the ocean. I miss one of my favorite things to do in Coronado, which is walking across Orange Avenue, to the Del and going to the beach.”

Burgess described the start of his legal issues which dated back to 2017, with false accusations of impropriety made by a male middle school student. “To take a step back, I have to tell you as weird as this might sound, it was more than a month before I found out the name of the person who made these claims. I never taught or coached this person. He was a seventh grader at the time. If we had crossed paths, I wouldn’t have known him. I have no animosity whatsoever toward the person who made the claim. My biggest issue is how the school district handled the initial lack of communication and ultimately their lack of integrity. Karl Mueller didn’t come to the classroom, he sent (Asst. Superintendent) Rita Beyers on the first day after Spring Break to say ‘I need your keys.’ She said she would be my point of contact and I would be kept abreast of what was happening every step of the way. Instead I got a text that said, ‘We’ll be in touch,’ and one voicemail. At the end of the day, when I was allowed to come back to school, the only communication from the Superintendent was when he came up to be at a Wednesday morning teacher’s meeting. He said, ‘Welcome back and we’ll talk.’ Well that never happened. If either my principal or my superintendent had the forethought to essentially sit me down in the office, tell me what had happened, and that this is the process we need to take, I believe I would have been alright with that. But there was no communication or response, no hearing and I had no idea when I could return. I received a letter from Beyers that said if I communicate with anyone else you can be fired. That’s where I’m coming from.”

Another turn in the case came with a letter sent by Beyers Aug. 28, 2017, on behalf of CUSD to the State Commission on Teaching Credentialing. At that time Burgess was on paid leave until a six-month period had passed and a lawsuit from the child’s family could no longer be filed.

Burgess explained, “Matt Herron basically pulled up a document that Rita Beyers sent out that they were looking to pull my credential. They (CUSD) absolutely said there would be no punitive action taken and that was under oath during the hearing process. The document was obtained accidentally, from the State of California Credentialing Office. They said they had no grounds to pull my credential. A big part of this, they were dishonest about. Investigation on the case was done solely by the Joint Powers Authority (an insurance coalition of school districts to self-insure against major loss). There wasn’t an unbiased or realistic investigation. I was contacted by at least four people who were interviewed, and they all said this was BS in their own diplomatic way. The District Attorney’s Office threw the case out. The school district waited for the second six months to time out before I was reinstated.”

Burgess explained his decision to file a libel suit against the school district. “I had zero communication with the school, so we went to the next level. I sat down with Matt Herron, as intelligent and hard-working professional as I have ever met in my life. I can’t give him enough credit for his work. We were fighting an uphill battle, a school educator fighting a state institution. It all points back to incompetent leadership who didn’t handle personnel correctly. It’s been a lot of time, effort and I have zero regrets. I loved working with kids and my fellow teachers. Karl Mueller used to be my principal and we banged heads there too, over the kind of coach I was. I think personalities had a lot to do with this.”

CUSD filed an anti-SLAPP ruling against Burgess when he lost the first round of the libel lawsuit, demanding the district be paid $20,500 for their legal fees arising from the case. Judge Gregory W. Pollack from the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego, issued an order June 21, 2019, that read in part, “In granting Coronado’s anti-SLAPP ruling, the court wishes to emphasize that it has properly confined its analysis to the only cause of action actually alleged in the complaint, i.e., libel per se, based upon Coronado’s single written statement of September 20, 2017. In Burgess’ opposition papers, Burgess alleges a host of other instances of purported misconduct by Coronado, including inadequate investigation, the propriety of placing Burgess on administrative leave, no advance warning to Burgess of impending action, wrongfully reporting the matter to the Commission of Teaching Credentialing (CTC), improperly placing a document within Burgess’ personnel file, violating confidentiality of personnel records, and failing to provide Burgess with an opportunity to defend or exonerate himself. These claims were not made in the original complaint, nor was there a motion to amend the complaint pursuant to CCP §473(a) at any time prior to Coronado’s filing its anti-SLAPP motion. Thus, this court’s ruling on the anti-SLAPP motion should not be interpreted as an indication of the viability (or non-viability) of these; other claims had they been alleged.

Finally, the court wishes to note that its finding that Burgess did not satisfy his prong II burden of establishing a substantial probability of prevailing shall not be read as a conclusion that Burgess, in fact, committed the underlying acts of child molestation. To the contrary, the evidence before the court suggests otherwise. The court fully appreciates that while child molestation is a despicable act that always causes harm, in some situations a false allegation of child molestation made against an innocent person can actually be more harmful.”

To help Burgess pay for the $20,500 in legal fees, a GoFundMe account has been established, which currently has a balance of $14,075. The deadline for payment by Burgess to CUSD for the legal fees was extended by Judge Pollack to Feb. 21, 2020. CUSD through their attorney filed an action against the extension of the deadline. Judge Pollack ruled otherwise.

Burgess added, “I am very appreciative but also embarrassed that I have to go through this. I’m very humbled, but it’s unfortunate it had to get to this. That money will be used to pay off the district. When I think about the lawsuit, this isn’t about money, this is about the integrity of the system, me and my reputation. This is a travesty and there has been collateral damage to my family. The silver lining is the people who have stepped up and shown their support. It’s been a travesty for my family more than me, including my 93-year-old mother. Regardless, I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with some incredible young adults and exceptional peers while at Coronado High School.”

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