The Orange County Board of Education heads to court today to defend its vacancy appointment of Tim Shaw, who was originally elected but quit last year when faced with a lawsuit.
Now, a lawsuit against the board alleges state law says it’s illegal to appoint someone to the very governing board they quit.
The lawsuit was brought by Michael Sean Wright, with former Tustin City Council candidate, and attorney Lee Fink representing him.
They are seeking an expedited ruling on the case.
“We’re hopeful that the court will see fit to agree to issue a ruling, giving us the relief that we seek and if not tomorrow, then shortly thereafter,” Fink said in an interview Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Shaw and his colleagues are arguing that the OC Board of Education is not a governing board.
“It’s not the governing board of anything,” Shaw said in a Tuesday afternoon phone interview. “We’re not governing … we’re not up there running the department of education.”
The board is responsible for approving charter school applications, inter-district transfers for students and approving the OC Department of Education’s annual budget, according to Shaw.
Judge Martha Gooding may decide the merits of the case and possibly if Shaw can keep his position on the board at a court hearing slated today at 9 a.m.
Shaw was threatened with a lawsuit in February 2021 for simultaneously holding a spot on the board of education and the city council.
Rather than fight that lawsuit at personal expense, Shaw resigned his seat on the education board and held onto his La Habra City Council seat.
At the time, he said he resigned from the board because he was most recently elected to the La Habra City Council in November 2020.
His seat on the OC Board of Education is up for election this June.
Following Shaw’s resignation in November, board members announced they would host a series of interviews with interested candidates in December 2021.
But on the morning of those interviews, Shaw abruptly resigned his post on the La Habra City Council and went to ask for his old job back – arguing that since the conflict of interest claim was now moot, he should be reappointed to the seat as the one who won the last election in the district.
The board appointed him that night, following an unscheduled closed session where board members retreated behind closed doors to discuss their move, then came out and approved Shaw’s return in a 3-1 vote, with Trustee Beckie Gomez dissenting.
Meanwhile, Wright is arguing that Shaw’s reappointment violates Section 1752 of the government code, which states:
“No person elected or appointed to the governing body of any city, county or district having an elected governing body, shall be appointed to fill any vacancy on that governing body during the term for which he or she was elected or appointed.”
When asked about their argument earlier this month, Shaw said his seat doesn’t fall under those regulations because the rules do not specifically state a “board,” of education.
“It says the governing body for a city, county or district. It doesn’t say the word board. We are a board of education,” Shaw said. “I’ve had nothing but frivolous lawsuits from these people, they’re just upset.”
Shaw said he stood by that opinion a couple weeks later, adding that for the judge to throw him out of office would be “very extraordinary action.”
“Not only are you overturning the results of the last election, you’re overturning a vote done by the board,” Shaw said. “It would leave the board in a precarious situation where we have 2-2 votes, it makes it more difficult to obtain a quorum and obviously it leaves the voters of the 4th district unrepresented for a period of time.”
The lawsuit claims state law does apply to the appointment process of governing bodies like the Orange County Board of Education.
“That’s an extraordinary position to take that they’re simply not subject to any laws and we don’t think that’s right. We think that the Orange County Board of Education is, in fact, subject to the law and they can’t use an appointment to evade those requirements,” Fink said.
Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, the seat is up for grabs this June.
Because Shaw left, whoever was appointed to the seat would only serve until the next election and would then have to run to keep their spot through the remainder of the term that runs until 2024.
Paulette Chaffee, wife of county supervisor Doug Chaffee, has thrown her hat in the ring as a contender for the seat, with backing from a variety of Democratic politicians.
She dropped out of a run for a seat on the Fullerton City Council in 2018 following accusations that she stole opposition signs.
Doug and Shaw were also political rivals in 2018 during the race for a county supervisor seat, which Shaw lost.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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