Monday, June 27, 2016
Restraining Order Against School Board Member Affirmed
Court of Appeal Says Evidence, Including Video, Showed Credible Threat to Principal
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Sixth District Court of Appeal yesterday affirmed a restraining order obtained by a Santa Clara Unified School District principal against the father of one of her students, who is also a member of the district’s board.
“[S]ufficient evidence supports the [trial] court’s conclusion that [Christopher] Stampolis made a credible threat of violence toward [Susan] Harris,” Justice Eugene Premo wrote. “[S]ufficient evidence supports the court’s conclusion that it is reasonably probable that unlawful harassment may occur in the future absent a restraining order. And, sufficient evidence supports the court’s conclusion that the harassment caused Harris emotional distress.”
Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Thomas Kuhnle granted the injunction after Harris said she felt intimidated and was suffering from anxiety requiring medical treatment as a result of six incidents that took place in August and September 2014. The judge also awarded Harris $19,000 in attorney fees.
Stampolis was elected to the SCUSD board in 2012, after having previously served on the West Valley-Mission Community College board. He has had a stormy tenure on the board, having been censured by fellow board members, accused of threatening the district superintendent and his family, been the subject of a petition by teachers and staff claiming he subjected them to an unsafe working environment, and sued by the district on charges he violated the conflict-of-interest statute by voting on a labor agreement involving a union that he has done work for.
That suit is still pending, according to a local newspaper account.
Stampolis, whose seat is up for election in November, is also a Democratic National Committee member and national convention “superdelegate.”
Harris alleged in her complaint that she had a confrontation with Stampolis on Aug. 27, 2014 after she complained that he consistently violated a school policy requiring parents who pick up their children at the end of the school day to do so no later than 20 minutes after the end of the school day.
At the hearing, Harris claimed that Stampolis threatened her, holding his fingers as if he were aiming a gun. Stampolis denied the claim, saying he merely gestured at Harris to emphasize his demand that she communicate whatever issues she had with him in writing.
Harris offered a surveillance video she said supported her version of events, while Stampolis said the video supported his defense. Harris also testified that Stampolis stood so close to her she could feel his breath on her face, and presented a witness—the vice principal—who largely confirmed her account.
In subsequent episodes, Harris and others testified, Stampolis confronted the principal in her office, refused her request that he address her as “Mrs. Harris,” came into the school building after she told him he was no longer permitted to do so, and falsely accused her to police of imprisoning his son.
The false-imprisonment accusation resulted in Stampolis filing a small claims suit on his son’s behalf. A Santa Clara Superior Court commissioner dismissed it for failure to file a government tort claim, the San Jose Mercury News reported.
Kuhnle noted during the hearing that Stampolis was a “trained lawyer”—his resume lists a degree from Concord Law School, although he is not a member of the State Bar of California—and said he should know that “words are important.” Based on the video and the witness testimony, Kuhnle concluded that Stampolis was not credible.
He issued a restraining order barring Stampolis coming within a specified distance of the school, although he is permitted to come to the student pick-up and drop-off locations and to attend publicly noticed school board meetings. The original order was renewed last year and is set to expire on Sept. 30, 2018.
Premo, writing for the Court of Appeal, rejected Stampolis’ claim that he had been held to a higher standard as to credibility because of his law degree. While the trial judge mentioned the defendant’s legal training, the justice said, Kuhnle’s credibility finding was largely based on contradictions in his testimony.
The justice acknowledged that an anti-harassment injunction cannot be based solely on a single incident. But the order against Stampolis was justified, he said, by substantial evidence supporting a conclusion that the misconduct was likely to recur otherwise, given his membership on the school board and the fact his son remained a student at the school.
The case is Harris v. Stampolis, 16 S.O.S. 3031.
Copyright 2016, Metropolitan News Company