San Diego Superior Court Judge Judith Hayes upheld her tentative ruling Aug. 19 and granted the Sweetwater Union High School District a preliminary injunction that prevents former trustees Bertha Lopez and Jim Cartmill from finishing out their terms on the school board.
“I think that the decision by the court is consistent with what the district believed the law was and she’s (Hayes) confirmed that,” said Randy Winet, an attorney for the school district. “The seats become vacant by operation of law, based upon the statutes, is what the judge confirmed.”
The injunction also allows the five temporary trustees — appointed by the San Diego County Office of Education — to continue to operate the district.
Hayes noted California Education Code 5094 as one of her reasons for granting the injunction.
The code states that: “If for any reason vacancies should occur in a majority of the offices on any school district or community college district governing board, the president of the county board of education having jurisdiction may appoint members of the county board of education to the district governing board until new members of the governing board are elected or appointed.”
All five seats of the Sweetwater school board are up for grabs in a November election.
Defense attorneys argued that the Sweetwater Union High School District did not follow the proper process for trying to remove an elected official from office.
They argued that the local court did not have the jurisdiction to remove either defendant from office and that only the attorney general can proceed with the removal of Lopez and Cartmill in a quo warranto proceeding.
Cartmill said Hayes’ ruling might have implications for future elected officials.
“I respectfully disagree with the decision,” Cartmill said.
“I think voters should decide elections not lawyers. This court’s ruling opens the door for politically motivated prosecutions all over the state and, in effect, criminalizing political differences.”
Hayes also cited that Lopez and Cartmill had to forfeit their seats because while the ex-board members did not commit a felony, their convictions violated their official duties.
Both Lopez and Cartmill pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of accepting gifts above the state limit in a pay-for-play scandal in what the San Diego District Attorney’s Office has called the largest public corruption case in San Diego County history.
Despite their guilty pleas, San Diego Superior Court Judge Ana Espana ruled that Lopez and Cartmill would still be allowed to sit on the governing board.
Espana’s ruling was questioned by the school district and on May 13 she reversed her decision, after she admittedly learned about California Education Code 1770.2, which prevented Lopez and Cartmill from holding office upon a guilty plea.
Their removal was then left up to the district.
However, Espana ruled that Government Code 91002 did not apply to either defendant and allowed them to run for re-election.
Government Code 91002 prevents a person convicted of a misdemeanor from running for office.
“They have the right and ability to run for reelection and the people will decide,” Winet said.
Upon Lopez and Cartmill’s removal from the school board, Winet filed and was granted a temporary restraining order, which allowed the president of the San Diego County Office of Education to appoint four temporary trustees.
The preliminary injunction solidifies that the four temporary trustees can serve Sweetwater until a new board is elected.
“They will continue to be the temporary trustees until the new board is elected and sworn in,” Winet said.
Cartmill said at this point he doesn’t know if he will appeal.