Escondido Union School District (EUSD) administrators were rebuffed Friday in their attempt to get a permanent workplace violence restraining order against EUSD Trustee Jose Fragozo.
Delivering a one-hour verdict, Vista Superior Court judge Richard Whitney said it was a tough call, but, in the end, he decided that granting a restraining order would effectively end Fragozo’s term as a school board member. While urging Fragozo to get some anger and mediation counseling, Whitney also criticized school administrators for being overly sensitive to Fragozo’s actions and requests.
“I think Mr. Fragozo is extremely passionate, but I don’t believe there is convincing evidence to come to a very drastic remedy that basically serves to silence a school board member and terminate him from his position,” Whitney said. “He can’t function as a school board member,” with a restraining order in place.”
Whitney added: “But you can’t frighten people. they have to be able to work with you.”
As Whitney announced his decision, the courtroom erupted in applause as most of the 50 people in attendance appeared to be Fragozo supporters.
Following the decision, Fragozo and his attorney Laura Farris expressed gratitude to the judge and said they were open to some of Whitney’s suggestions.
“The big winners are our kids, our teachers, our parents, so we can put the focus back on our school district, ” Fragozo said, outside the courthouse.
With Fragozo’s vindication, leaders of the Rev. Al Sharpton-aligned activist National Action Network announced they would begin a national campaign to blunt the power of the Stutz Artiano Shinoff and Holtz law firm whose partner Dan Shinoff represented EUSD in the case.
Rev. Shane Harris, National Action Network San Diego president, said the group would organize and investigate actions of Shinoff’s law firm. Harris said the firm targeted minority school board representatives attempting to silence them while taking huge taxpayer-funded fees representing school districts in restraining order attempts.
“This is about a community and a people,” Harris said. “The Shinoff law firm has a history and legacy of going after minorities on school boards and using taxpayer money for restraining orders that never happen.”
Harris said his group along with the NAACP would form a national movement snd game plan to stop the Shinoff law firm beginning with organizing meetings during the first week of May. He said 100 people then would attend a May 5 San Diego County Board of Education meeting to bring the law firm’s behavior to greater public scrutiny.
The situation began Dec. 2, 2015 with superintendent Luis Rankins-Ibarra and four colleagues filing a temporary restraining order to keep Fragozo 300 yards from school property and meetings.
Ibarra et. al. contended Fragozo behaved in a threatening manner while discuss various school issues, including not receiving board agenda packets and the direction of English as a Second Language efforts and declining school enrollment.
Fragozo flatly denied those charges, saying he merely disagreed with Ibarra and company and they were blowing up the situation to silence him.
Fragozo also has been charged by the San Diego District Attorney with alleged election fraud. The complaint revolves around Fragozo’s residence. The complaint came following the district’s changing of board elections from district-wide to specific district.
Investigators also said Joan Gardner, recently named EUSD board president, wrote a letter in July 2012 to the Secretary of State’s Office about Fragozo’s alleged lack of proper residency.
Fragozo is fighting the charges. He is free without bail. Should he be found guilty, he could face up to nine years, four months in prison. He said the case had been put on hold pending this hearing and didn;t know when it would resume.