Sweetwater Union High School District board President Jim Cartmill and trustee Bertha Lopez are both suspended from their positions after a San Diego Superior Court judge rescinded her previous finding that let both officials finish their term when they pleaded guilty to misdemeanor corruption charges April 24.
An attorney for the district sought clarification from Judge Ana Espana about how the two guilty board members could continue their roles in policy- and decision-making if government code 1770.2 prevents them from serving office after a guilty plea.
California government code 1770.2 states: “…the person found guilty shall not assume the office for which the person is otherwise qualified or shall be suspended immediately from the office the person then holds.”
Espana reversed her ruling after she learned of 1770.2.
She said in a previous hearing it was the first time she had heard about the government code.
Espana ruled Tuesday that she does not have the legal right to decide whether both board members can remain on the board or force them to resign.
“The law does not give this court the authority to order the removal of the defendants from office under these circumstances, nor does the law give the court the authority to order that they remain in office,” Espana said.
That decision was left up to the school district to decide the fate of Lopez and Cartmill; an attorney for the district said the pair are suspended and had been suspended at the time of their guilty plea.
“They are still on the board, they’re suspended,” said Randy Winet, an attorney for the district.
The lone remaining board member, trustee John McCann, said in an email that Cartmill and Lopez should resign.
“I have been fighting for ethics, transparency and our students at the district since being elected,” he said. “I challenged and replaced former board member Greg Sandoval and terminated the former superintendent, Jesus Gandara, who both recently pleaded guilty to felonies.”
“I urge Lopez and Cartmill to see beyond their positions and resign their seats on the board.”
Winet said if Cartmill or Lopez were to withdrawal their pleas, then they will not be suspended.
“There is actually a provision under 1770.2 that says if they withdraw their pleas, their suspension is withdrawn,” he said.
Attorney Jill Cremeans, who represents Lopez, said they are “still considering all of our options” and hasn’t ruled out withdrawing Lopez’s guilty plea.
Cartmill could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Thomas Warwick, would not comment.
Creameans said Lopez wants to remain a board member.
“She does want to stay on the board, she takes her job seriously and wants to help the community,” she said about Lopez.
Winet said the district is working on getting a court to issue an order allowing the president of San Diego County schools to provisionally appoint members from the County Office of Education to sit temporarily on the Sweetwater board, so that the district can still be governed.
It is unclear whether the May 19 school board meeting will take place as scheduled.