Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Court Upholds Naming of Trustee to Run Compton College
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
Urgency legislation permitting the chancellor of the California Community Colleges to appoint a special trustee to manage a financially struggling community college district does not violate the state Constitution, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
In an unpublished opinion, Div. Two upheld the constitutionality of Education Code Sec. 71093, which enabled Chancellor Marshall Drummond to name a special trustee to run the Compton Community College District in 2004 amid the district’s financial instability. The justices affirmed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Terry A. Green’s dismissal of a suit challenging Drummond’s actions.
The suit was brought by six former district employees—Rudolph Washington, Shirley Edwards, Essie French-Preston, Robert Butler, Stanley Camilla Viltz and Leroy Porter—who alleged that the special trustee, appointed by Drummond pursuant to Sec. 71093 to replace the district’s elected board of trustees, unlawfully overruled employment contracts that the board had extended to them.
In addition to Drummond, the suit named as defendants the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges, special trustee Arthur Tyler, Ulis Williams as president/superintendent of the district, and the district’s Board of Trustees.
Sec. 71093 was enacted in the wake of a financial audit of the district that was conducted in May 2004 at Drummond’s request. The audit—ordered after the district, which showed financial stability problems in a 2003 audit, failed to submit financial information for 2004—reported that the district would have insufficient cash to cover the fiscal year ending June 30, 2004.
The same month, Drummond also issued an executive order appointing Tyler as special trustee, to assume the rights, duties and powers of the district’s Board of Trustees.
The board then sought and obtained a temporary restraining order enjoining the executive order, but its application for a preliminary injunction was denied on July 2.
During the same time period, the state Legislature intervened in the district’s financial crisis by enacting AB 61 to add and then repeal Sec. 71093. The urgency statute permitted the chancellor to suspend the power of the district’s board of trustees with respect to managing the district, and to appoint a special trustee in its place in order to preserve the Compton Community College District’s fiscal integrity.
The scope of the special trustee’s specifically delineated authority included the power to implement substantial changes in the district’s fiscal policies and practices, and to change any then-existing district rules, regulations, policies or practices as needed for effective recovery.
After Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill into law, the six plaintiffs brought their action claiming that Sec. 71093 violated Article IV, Sec. 8 of the state Constitution, which bars an urgency statute from creating or abolishing an office or changing the terms or duties of an existing office.
Green granted the plaintiffs’ ex parte request for a temporary restraining order preventing the defendants from “making any hiring decisions to appoint or hire individuals in the positions currently held by plaintiffs,” but ultimately denied their application for a preliminary injunction.
In August 2005, the trial judge sustained without leave to amend a demurrer to the second amended complaint, agreeing with the defendants that the appointment of a special trustee was already permitted by an earlier, properly enacted provision—Sec. 84040—and that Sec. 71093 neither created nor expanded the office of the trustee.
Writing for Div. Two, Justice Kathryn Doi Todd agreed that the statute “not only incorporates but also replicates the language of section 84040, which provides that the Board of Governors may develop procedures and remedies that ‘include the appointment of a special trustee to manage the district.’”
Sec. 71093 was merely a “reiteration of the necessity for a special trustee” and thus did not violate the constitutional bar against an urgency measure creating an office, she said.
The justice continued:
“Section 71093 does not change or enlarge the Chancellor’s duties because authorization by the Board of Governors remains a necessary prerequisite to the Chancellor’s exercising his power to appoint a special trustee.”
Presiding Justice Roger W. Boren and Justice Judith M. Ashmann-Gerst concurred in the opinion.
Claremont attorney Ronald T. Vera, who represented the plaintiffs on appeal, told the MetNews his clients will be asking the Supreme Court to review the ruling.
“I don’t believe the court considered the issues of the board being stripped of their powers, and what effect that would have on the voters of Compton in terms of [them] not being able to elect a board to govern the district,” he said.
Even though the office of special trustee had been previously authorized, he added, the previous statute did not encompass “the whole range of powers that had been given to the trustee by the recent legislation, particularly with respect to the powers that were taken away from the governing board.”
Century City lawyer Barrett K. Green of Littler Mendelson, who represented the defendants on appeal, could not be reached for comment.
The case is Washington v. Drummond, B187000.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company