Del Mar school district pays teacher’s legal costs

By Marsha Sutton
Senior Education Writer

The Del Mar Union School District agreed to pay a teacher’s court costs and legal fees when the teacher filed a harassment charge last spring against a parent at her school. The teacher claimed the parent, the mother of several children at the teacher’s school, was threatening the teacher and endangering the students at the school.

The teacher, and the district, lost the case when the judge ruled in favor of the defendant, the parent, after a court appearance that included testimony from the teacher, the parent and the school’s principal, Wendy Wardlow of Del Mar Heights School.

The alleged erratic behavior started when the teacher began dating the mother’s now ex-husband (the mother and father were separated and in the process of divorcing at the time).

After the teacher reported to the school’s principal that the mother had made offensive and threatening statements to her, Wardlow alerted DMUSD superintendent Jim Peabody, who brought the issue to the district’s lawyer Dan Shinoff, of Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz.

Shinoff advised the school district to take the threat seriously and to pay the teacher’s litigation costs. The district became involved, he said, “because of the safety of the kids on campus.”

After handling three school shootings in San Diego County, Shinoff said he weighed the risks carefully and recommended that the district support the teacher. “The school district’s interest was to make sure that all students and staff were safe which is its constitutional obligation,” he said.

If the district had not taken the reported threats seriously and someone had been hurt, Shinoff said people would view the tragedy as having been foreseeable and would consider that those “in loco parentis had recklessly disregarded the obvious.”

“That’s a huge calculated risk,” he said.

Shinoff had no regrets about advising the district to take the case. “It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback,” he said in an email.

The harassment case began on April 25 when the teacher filed a temporary restraining order against the mother, which was granted. The mother was ordered to stay at least 100 yards from the teacher until the formal hearing on May 13.

At the May 13 hearing, after testimony, the restraining order was dissolved and “denied with prejudice,” meaning the case cannot be filed again.

“The court initially granted the request for a temporary restraining order and later declined to grant a request for a longer term injunction,” Shinoff explained.

The case cost the district about $6,700, said Peabody — $2,875 to Shinoff’s firm to represent the plaintiff (the teacher) in court, and $3,800 to the defendant for her attorney’s fees.

After finding in favor of the defendant, the court ordered the teacher to pay $3,800 to the defendant for reimbursement of legal fees. The DMUSD school board then met in closed session and agreed to pay the $3,800 owed by the teacher to the mother. It was after the case was officially closed in August that the district disclosed that the school board had agreed to cover these costs.

The mother said her defense cost $4,500, and she will try to collect the remaining $700 in small claims court.

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  5. Carmel Valley: Del Mar Union School District teacher of the year retiring this week

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Posted by Staff on Sep 22, 2011. Filed under Del Mar, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

10 Comments for “Del Mar school district pays teacher’s legal costs”

  1. Dan Shinoff advised the district to pay legal costs to his own firm, right?

    • concerned citizen

      Larkins you are crazy. Do you have a life or are you on a vendetta against that firm?

      • Dear "concerned citizen":
        What exactly is it that you, as a citizen, are concerned about? Your concern seems to be that decisions of education attorneys should not be questioned by parents or taxpayers. Would you care to discuss this more fully?

  2. concerned parent

    So has the teacher, who was dating the still-married father of several children at the Heights, been disciplined? We the parents of kids in the district are paying for her legal fees but what are the repercussions for her?

    As a taxpaying parent of children in the district, I would be extremely concerned about my own children being under her care and tutelage after this extreme lapse of good judgment.

  3. Michael Robertson

    Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz is the outside legal firm that Del Mar school district uses. The problem is that the law firms interests are NOT in alignment with the schools. The school's goal is to educate children to the best of their ability. The law firms goals is to bill the district for as many hours of work as they can to make money. Naturally the law firm recommends they fight every action – even if the case is a complete loser as it was in this case. It was such a poor case that the district had to pay the other sides expenses as well. The law firm doesn't care because win or lose they get paid. They see the tax funded school district as a dumb client they can milk for money.

    Until someone in authority stops this we will see this over and over. The losers are the tax payers and Del Mar students who have less money that goes to their education. The winners are Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz law firm.

    • DXM

      You can hardly be considered an unbiased voice in this, since you are currently suing the district.

      • On the contrary, I doubt that Mr. Robertson had any feelings at all about Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz before he requested public records from the district. The district could have given him the public records without consulting any law firm at all. Now, of course, Mr. Robertson has a bit of experience regarding Stutz, but experience is not the same as bias, is it?

  4. common sense

    The dad/husband/boyfriend should be the one who pays. He created this mess with poor judgment in dating his kid's teacher. Step up and take responsibility for the mess you made, dad.

  5. Amaris

    Michael Robertson sounds like you got the picture.
    Daniel Shinoff always advises to continue litigation because he knows that it is always a win win situation for his law firm.

    Yes indeed they fight every action, because its a big chi ching for them.

  6. Really???

    There is much more to this story than reported here. The teacher in question had an affair with the married father of ONE OF HER OWN STUDENTS. Apparently she had done this on two previous occasions with fathers of other students. She filed a restraining order against the very person she had victimized, the wife/mother of the family. I assume it was a ploy to deflect her own guilt by attempting to damage the reputation of the mother. The court proved the case was unfounded if not absurd. It is shocking that this teacher is allowed near children.

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