Tim Shaw has been temporarily blocked from serving on the Orange County Board of Education following a Friday ruling from an OC Superior Court judge that says the board may have broken the law when it appointed him to the seat last year.
“Plaintiff has shown a strong likelihood of success on the merits of its claim that (Shaw’s) appointment to the (OC Board of Education) … was in violation of Government Code,” wrote Judge Martha Gooding in an order released Friday evening.
That means Shaw will be blocked from serving on the board through the June 7 election while the issue plays out in court, missing at least two board meetings according to the board of education’s meeting schedule posted on their website.
The case revolves around a state law called Section 1752, that says “no person elected or appointed to the governing body of any city, county, or district … shall be appointed to fill any vacancy on that governing body during the term for which he or she was elected.”
While Shaw was elected to the seat in 2020, he resigned in 2021 over a lawsuit alleging that he had a conflict of interest by serving on both the board and the La Habra City Council simultaneously.
A month later, his colleagues on the board voted to reappoint him to his old seat, and he’s now running to finish out his original term that ends in 2024.
After the appointment, Shaw was sued by constituent Michael Sean Wright, who said that shouldn’t have been allowed.
While Shaw’s lawyer and the county board of education tried to argue the board of education does not govern a school district and should be exempt, and that the judge didn’t have the authority to issue a restraining order blocking Shaw from serving, Gooding tossed out both those arguments.
To read the judge’s order, click here.
Lee Fink, the attorney representing Wright, said in a Monday interview that they were pleased with Gooding’s decision.
“The lawsuit is about accountability,” he said. “Democracy’s about the rule of law, and our elected officials have to follow the law when they are carrying out the duties for which they’re elected and the Orange County Board of Education simply did not.”
Bill Essayli, Shaw’s lawyer, said that while he “respectfully disagreed,” with the ruling, its purpose is to hand things over to the voters.
“The bigger picture here is that it’s temporary, she put a hold on things until voters can cast their ballot in five weeks and make the decision,” Essayli said in a Monday phone call.
Shaw’s suspension is unlikely to lead to any substantive shifts in the board’s votes, as he’s a member of a four-person majority that generally overrides their fifth member, trustee Beckie Gomez.
Gomez is also facing questions over whether she can remain in office because she sits on both the OC Board of Education and the Tustin City Council.
Even though Shaw has been blocked from serving on the board, it’s unclear what impact that will really have after the June election.
Wright’s case sits on the idea that Shaw was improperly appointed to the seat without an election, opening questions on whether or not the case could proceed against him since he would be normally elected to the seat.
“We are in uncharted waters, this statute has never been interpreted by any court,” Essayli said when asked what would happen if Shaw were reelected. “I don’t think there will be any questions once Tim is reelected to that seat, there will be no lawful basis to challenge his ability to serve on the board.”
Fink said the lawsuit only addresses the period for which Shaw was appointed for and that if Shaw wins the June election it won’t have effect on the case.
“But I think that the voters are going to know that he and the Board of Education have violated the law and I think that’s important for the public to know when they go to the voting booth,” he said.
Discussion on the case will continue on May 16, according to Gooding’s ruling.
Hosam Elattar contributed to the reporting in this article.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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