Are Law Firms Generating Income on the Backs of California Schools at the Expense of Education and Athletics?

As schools are strapped to simply afford books,  teachers and athletic programs, one area of their budget has continued to soar despite the economic downturn and huge budget cuts; legal and administrative  fees charged by CIF and Section to member schools. We have asked before about these fees and suddenly legal counsel has been committed to respond to our inquiries in what appears to be a retaliatory fashion ( Email from CIF General Counsel in our previous Post). But wait!!!!! Maybe there is something to the CIF legal representation itself that is a problem…….Our email response to CIF General Counsel  (of the  Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost Law Firm) sent 1/23/12:

CCS Watchdog is perplexed as to why the CIF and CCS have refused to answer any questions CCS Watchdog has posed since October 2011, but has issued an email that appears highly retaliatory in nature only after CCS Watchdog published posts related to public figures and CIF-CCS policies and practices ( all supported by objective documentation or information in the public domain).

CCS Watchdog has contacted the DA’s office indirectly, they refused to start an investigation in the absence of a victim willing to come forward. Since CCS Watchdog has remained at “arm’s length ” to ensure privacy and confidentiality for athletes and their families, it has no specific information to report to the DA, other than information obtained as it relates to the management of the CIF and CCS organizations . Furthermore, CCS Watchdog has no jurisdiction or standing to file a complaint nor is CCS Watchdog a “Mandated Reporter” as individuals within the CCS organization and member schools are. CCS Watchdog can point to evidence that demonstrates CCS and CIF have violated their legal obligations .

CCS Watchdog has clearly stated concerns about escalating legal fees in the CIF and CCS , the finding that Ms. Freeman’s law firm also represents member schools is highly alarming and appears to be a significant conflict of interest. Questions about retaliatory practices, conflict of interest and violation of civil rights for families and students whose children compete in athletics in the state of California may have merit.

Based on the 2008-09 Santa Clara County Grand Jury Report and recommendations, we believe this is a significant abuse of public funds that warrants further investigation. CIF explained to the state legislature that legal fees went from $400K to $1.9 million based on litigious parents. CCS Watchdog anxiously awaits how escalating legal fees will be explained to the state legislature this year. Could legal counsel be aware CIF is making fraudulent statements to our state representatives related to our public funds? Has Ms. Freeman’s firm recommended legal representation unnecessarily at eligibility hearings for CCS and CIF to increase revenue for her own firm? Has Ms. Freeman provided legal counsel to individuals in the CIF and CCS that equates to legal advise related to personal misconduct rather than maintain her fiduciary obligation to the organization that pays her? Has Ms. Freeman and her firm properly managed their legal and fiduciary responsibilities? Were individual rights and public monies abused in this process?

We welcome an investigation. CCS Watchdog practices the ultimate of democratic freedoms- Free Speech and right to monitor and speak up against our government. CCS Watchdog is not subject to open government laws, CIF- CCS and the law firms that represent them are. Perhaps Ms. Freeman should advise her clients about Qui Tam and the False Claims Act.

CCS Watchdog

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Something is Rotten in CCS – Bad Legal Advice and Unnecessary Legal Fees?

On Jan19, 2012 we received the following from CIF-CCS legal counsel:

Sir or Madam:

The California Interscholastic Federation (“CIF”) and CIF-Central Coast Section (“CIF-CCS”) are very concerned about the postings on your website stating that you are aware of instances where students may have been subject to abuse and injury. You specifically allege that the CIF and the CIF-CCS have failed to report such instances of abuse. While your blog makes these very serious allegations, the ccswatchdog has never reported such information to the CIF or to the CIF-CCS. Further, your blog does not state that you have ever advised law enforcement or Child Protective Services of your allegations. In order to ensure the protection of children, the office of the CIF General Counsel has contacted the Santa Clara County District Attorney and the San Jose Police Department regarding your allegations. The CIF and the CIF-CCS have requested that these agencies contact you in order to investigate the allegations. Finally, the CIF and the CIF-CCS strongly urge you to contact these agencies immediately to report the information you claim to have regarding child abuse.

Diane Marshall-Freeman

CIF General Counsel

Funny how the CIF- CCS hasn’t been very concerned about any issues CCS Watchdog has tried to raise since October 2011. In fact in October 2011 Ms. Freeman sent an email to explain the CIF-CCS would  not communicate with CCS Watchdog.

Ms. Freeman’s comments are  inaccurate, CCS Watchdog has  requested information from CIF-CCS on multiple occasions and CIF and CCS have obstructed our requests  or refused to respond to our repeated requests for comments on information  before we POST. Both CIF and CCS officials  have failed to answer:

  1. How families can bring forward complaints of any type of abuse and ensure privacy and that  complaints will be properly addressed.
  2. How CIF-CCS provide for conflicts of interest in the Section and if such conflicts have been properly reported and managed.
  3. Polices and procedures for training and communication to ensure that all persons involved in the CIF- CCS understand their obligation to report all types of abuse.
  4. Training or communication that demonstrates CIF and CCS governance demonstrates proper expertise  and ability to manage financial and legal obligations ( including potential conflicts of interest with their own legal counsel) that potentially serve to expose member schools to significant financial risk and expense.

Still  CCS Watchdog remained puzzled as to why CIF-CCS would fail to address very specific questions and why they refuse to  provided information as obligated under the California  Public Records Act and the Brown Act.

Then CCS Watchdog realized the law firm retained by CIF may present the greatest conflict of interest of all. The CIF law firm is reported to be Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost. The same law firm was reported by the Santa Clara County Grand Jury Report in 2008-09 to also represent : San Jose, Fremont, Gilroy , Lakeside , Los Altos  and Los Gatos school districts which are all member schools of the CIF. Why is the CIF law firm now aggressively coming after CCS Watchdog instead of addressing gaps and flaws in the organization as it is legally and ethically obligated ? Maybe CCS Watchdog hit a nerve!

We welcome contact with the Santa Clara County DA office and Kamala Harris’ office. Those offices would likely have an  interest  in how Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost went from $400,000 per year  in billing to over $1.9 million in billing a year later while at the same time colleting millions of dollars from member schools during the worst economic crisis our state has ever experienced.

The link to the Grand Jury Report is :

http://www.scscourt.org/court_divisions/civil/cgj/2009/EducationDollars.pdf

All information published on this blog can be supported by objective documentation or testimony.

Call for Kamala Harris , California State Attorney General ,to Investigate the CCS and CIF Management

One family’s story illustrates how sexual abuse and financial misconduct impacts  minors in the state of California is allowed to flourish in organizations such as CCS and CIF:

The events surrounding Penn State compelled a family in the Central Coast Section to try to bring complaints forward about potential abuse of 8th grade athletes. Based on the family’s experience and   observations, it was fairly likely that a disturbing  pattern had set in and more girls continued to be  victimized each year. However, the family had been aware of a history in the Section that made them reluctant to come forward.  Rumors of a Machiavellian Commissioner who ruled the Section with an iron fist,  had  a history of retaliation and bias were enough to intimidate the family and raise concern that coming forward could jeopardize their own child’s privacy and athletic opportunities.  CCS Watchdog  looked into their concerns and found they had merit :

Rumors had circulated for years that the Commissioner, Nancy Blaser ,  had personal bias for private schools and  was not be capable of acting properly or objectively as a public official . The Commissioner has never concealed her religious affiliations, she sent her own children to a private Christian school and many of her important historical appointments and assignments have been given to private school representatives over public school members. Even her public school appointments appear to have connections to her personal religious philosophies.   Perhaps this adds to a   lack of  understanding necessary to properly manage public school burdens and obligations within the Section. In the 2010 CalPer audit, Nancy Blaser  clearly demonstrated lack knowledge  and expertise with respect to her  obligations under state laws related to the proper managment of  her own retirement benefits. Is she qualified , trained and capable of properly representing public schools and handling public monies?  We asked CCS /CIF for a list of her qualifications and both organizations failed to provide or cooperate with the request. This claim has merit and has not been properly managed by CIF or the CCS governing bodies in the past.

Rumors have persisted that athletes have been denied opportunities that have gone instead to the Commissioner’s own daughters or other family members.  Both of the Commissioner’s daughters have competed in varsity basketball, volleyball and track at Monte Vista Christian High school which is part of the MBL in the CCS. For years parents have noted ref calls that may have gone in favor of the Commissioner’s daughters’  at the expense of other athletes.  Even athletes on the girls’ own teams have reported favoritism being given to the girls whose dad was also their coach. Did the girls receive league MVP titles and other awards because of their mother’s position? The Principal of the girls’ school sits on CCS highest governing body that is charged to oversee and manage the Commissioner herself. Certainly  a substantial  conflict of interest is present when the Commissioner pays tuition to a school that employs an individual who then sits on the governing board charged to manage and oversee  the Commissioner herself.  Sponsors have privately noted for years  the  “unspoken” code that may have awarded league titles for MVP and off season awards to the Commissioner’s daughters and the school they attend. Has all this been at the expense of more deserving athletes? The Commissioner’s older daughter , Alex Blaser, now attends and competes in sports at San Jose State , she  is also employed as a volleyball coach for Valley Christian High school, a member school of the Section. Did the daughter get these opportunities because of her mother’s position? Valley Christian also has a position on a governing board for CCS , is that conflict disclosed and transparent?

Rumors have also circulated related to bias with the Commissioner’s husband as well . The Commissioner would have a community property interest in any income or benefits received by her husband, a very clearly defined conflict of interest. Yet the Commissioner has overseen the Section where her husband has coached boys from his member school , competed in CCS Championships and coached his own daughter’s teams. Did the Commissioner aggressively pursue  and sanction Salinas High School, the known rival and major competitor to North Salinas High where her husband is employed to give his school an advantage? Has the Commissioner acted on other schools who have not been diligent in managing the enrollment  records of their students as she acted  on Salinas High? CCS Watchdog has seen evidence that she has not. The fall out of this may have been hundreds of kids lost athletic opportunities for all sports for one year and football players for two years while the Commissioner’s family and athletes from her favorite schools may have been allowed to enjoy those opportunities without proper oversight from the Section  or CIF.

Rumors that officials do not report minor abuse as legally obligated may have merit as well. The family in this case attempted to contact the school, but school failed to respond to their inquiries. They offered no formal process to file a complaint related to sex abuse charges . CCS had multiple opportunities to act on this very coach as well, and CCS  failed to act on  claims of recruitment and improper enrollment  for many of the school’s athletes that the coach improperly recruited .The coach has remained in his position and neither the school or district where he was employed incurred any penalties or investigations as Salinas High endured.  Instead CCS continued to elevate the coach within the organization giving him broad  authority and allowing him to oversee CCS Championships as well . The school district where he is employed also has a member of both CIF and  CCS governing board. After hearing the coach boast about how he was able to get the Section to deny  eligibility for individual athletes based on his personal agenda, the family felt coming forward against the coach would not be in the best interest of their daughter and would likely have a negative impact on her privacy and athletic opportunities in the future.

If CCS and CIF have truly failed to follow their own rules and properly manage themselves, how can  they fairly and objectively  manage the 1.9 million athletes in the state of California they are charged to serve? Are the legal fees in CCS and CIF escalating to protect the “Good Old Boys” , or in CCS case:  the Good Old Girls?  CCS and CIF money is to be used to provide athletic opportunities for the 1.9 million athletes of the state, not protect the personal interests and bias of the very few who have managed these organizations for far too long. It would also be worth noting how the CIF legal counsel and their firm have benefited financially over the past few years . Legal costs appear to be escalating at a time when schools simply cannot afford it. Is the CIF counsel providing guidance according to legal and ethical standards to the organization or is school money being used to protect civil and criminal misconduct of a select few in the CCS and CIF organizations?

CCS Watchdog believes it is time for the California State Attorney General’s Office to investigate CIF and CCS further. Kamala Harris ran on a campaign where she promised to protect citizens of this state from issues such as those found in the management of CIF and CCS . An audit of conflict of interest filings, private eligibility cases and member school penalties as well as internal communication and records review will certainly expose some of the misconduct that appears to have negatively impacted youth in this state for years.  If such management has unfairly denied some athletes  opportunities, it is a travesty. If such management has provided for personal gain of CIF and CCS officials, it is criminal. If CCS and CIF have failed to act on coaches as they are legally obligated by their own rules and state laws, then they intentionally allowed children to be placed in harm’s way which  is not only criminal, but unethical  and immoral at best.

CCS Legal Fees up over 400% – Why do they need so much legal advise?

CCS legal fees were up over 400% in both  October and November in 2011. Maybe it is time to look at what CCS is actually doing with our member school money.  They spent more on legal fees than on athletes, is that what they are supposed to be doing? Escalating legal fees usually indicates something is amiss. As schools struggle to even be able to offer athletics, as schools are forced to cut team transportation, who is minding the financial store for the Central Coast Section and how well are they doing it? Are term limits being enforced as required or are the very same few people getting financial gain and other benefits?    Are the governing committees holding staff accountable as they should or is there just too much personal bias or too many incestuous  relationships within  the Section to manage its finances properly?  Is anyone  questioning legal fees and the wisdom behind expenditures as families and businesses have been forced to do? And who actually stands to gain from money spent by CCS? School districts have gotten into hot water for letting legal firms steer them wrong. Legal firms obviously stand to gain if long drawn out legal disputes occur, but how do schools and athletes gain on this?  CCS  Watchdog is looking into who us managing CCS and member school money and if that is being done properly. Right now transparency isn’t there and that will likely prove to be a problem.