A longtime school board member has presented a claim against the San Marino Unified School District, usually a precursor to a lawsuit, citing civil rights violations, defamation of character and a demand to immediately cease and desist releasing any false incriminating information, including allegations of sexual assault or battery.
The San Marino Unified School District has 50 days from the April 23 presentation to respond to the two-page claim filed by Guy P. Glazier, School Board Member Chris Norgaard’s attorney. After which time, Norgaard is prepared to file a lawsuit in state court and even possibly in federal court, according to Glazier, a San Marino resident, who is a partner in the Glazier Yee law firm, with offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Norgaard declined to comment, referring all inquiries to Glazier.
“We wanted to be as inclusive as we could (with the claim),” Glazier said Wednesday afternoon during a telephone interview. “Which is why we included the entire draft (lawsuit) complaint.” The 20-page draft lawsuit attached to the claim could be modified, depending on how the school district responds to the claim, Glazier said.
The introduction of the draft lawsuit states that, “Apparently seizing upon the #MeToo movement for cover, San Marino Unified School District (SMUSD) Superintendent Dr. Alex Cherniss and Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Linda de la Torre fabricated false claims of allegations of sexual harassment and embarked on an effort of which the only reasonable foreseeable effect would be to permanently damage and possibly destroy the personal and professional name, character, and life of San Marino School Board member, Mr. Christopher Norgaard.”
The claim not only identifies the San Marino Unified School District as a defendent, but also names Cherniss and de la Torre as part of the action.
As an example, the lawsuit alleges that “Cherniss and de la Torre published to multiple news media outlets false and scurrilous claims that allegations of sexual harassment had been made for which Mr. Norgaard was under investigation.”
An attorney acting on behalf of the SMUSD told The Tribune it would vigorously defend the claim and any subsequent legal action.
“The school district is in receipt of a claim on behalf of Board Member Chris Norgaard, and it intends to defend any lawsuit vigorously, as it is without merit,” said Nancy Doumanian, of Doumanian & Associates, the law firm representing the San Marino Unified School District in this matter. “We are deeply saddened that Mr. Norgaard would file an action against the very district and students he was elected to serve.”
Glazier countered by saying, “If and when we bring suit, we intend to sue the district and also Dr. Cherniss and Ms. de la Torre, individually, and in their official capacities.”
The claim does not specify monetary damages other than it will exceed $25,000, Glazier said.
“After devoting more than fourteen years of dedicated and recognized service to the advancement of the primary and secondary education of San Marino’s youth, Mr. Norgaard can now find himself featured on social media sites” in such a way that the lawsuit believes Mr. Norgaard’s character has been defamed, the document states.
The claim also surrounds accusations of improper conduct and battery, apparently by teachers or staff members at the San Marino Unified School District against Norgaard, who has been a school board member since he was first elected in 2003.
The school district sent out a press release Jan. 29 that states, in part: “The San Marino Unified School District has received allegations that Mr. Chris Norgaard has engaged in improper conduct. The District takes allegations of sexual harassment extremely seriously and is committed to providing a safe and respectful work environment for its employees.”
Norgaard was banned from all district campuses and properties without supervision and he was forbidden from contacting any district employees.
The lawsuit also states, “…Mr. Norgaard was instrumental in staffing and helping to organize a joint San Marino High School – California Institute of Technology (Caltech) program. … Mr. Norgaard lined up the first two Caltech professors under consideration. Both were friends of his, and one was a former member of the SMUSD Academics Advisory Committee. He therefore requested to be present at a meeting scheduled at Caltech on February 6, 2018. Cherniss initially agreed but later decided that the meeting ‘will be strictly an administrative meeting between Caltech, the high school principal, and myself.’ Therefore, we are not able to facilitate your attendance.” … The meeting was anything but strictly…administrative.”
Furthermore, Cherniss and de la Torre hired a private investigating firm to probe the “so-called allegations of sexual harassment” without School Board authorization. That investigation by Nicole Miller & Associates indicated Norgaard “had committed no ‘sexual harassment’ or other misconduct and violated no law or policy,” according to the lawsuit.
“They concluded that Mr. Norgaard’s conduct at all times was not sexually motivated and, critically, that no person interviewed perceived it to be sexually motivated or offensive.”
Moreover, the San Marino Police Department launched its own investigation based on information provided by the school district, according to San Marino Police Chief John Incontro. Incontro also said the police probe was based “entirely” on the information provided by the district. Police gave the case to the Alhambra office of the Los Angeles County District Attorney a few weeks ago.
The Alhambra office of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office declined to prosecute the case.
Glazier said Norgaard was never interviewed as a part of the police investigation.
“They had no victims, no witnesses,” Glazier said. “They only had what the school district gave them.”
Tribune Editor Mitch Lehman contributed to this story.