San Ysidro School District is still trying to recover more than $291,000 from disgraced former superintendent Manuel Paul, and has racked up far more than that in legal bills trying to make it happen.
The district has paid Long Beach law firm Leal-Trejo $480,000 as part of the lawsuit against Paul, filed in February 2015, according to figures provided to Voice of San Diego in response to a Public Records Act request.
Paul received $211,000 in severance pay when he resigned in 2013, after being indicted in a South County schools corruption case for failing to report contractor gifts. The district is going after Paul to get the payout back, as well as $80,000 in leave pay, other damages and attorney fees. If all goes well for the district, Paul will be the one paying the fees incurred.
“I will consult with the Board of Education to find the best remedy for this case,” Deputy Superintendent Arturo Sanchez-Macias wrote in an email. Sanchez-Macias, who is currently serving as interim superintendent, declined to comment further on the fees.
“It’s been our primary objective throughout this whole process to make the district whole for the alleged misconduct Mr. Paul engaged in,” said William Trejo, San Ysidro’s attorney. “I believe that these fees are consistent with other complex litigation matters involving not only a number of individuals, but a California statute that’s being invoked for the first time.” Trejo was referring to the abuse-of-office law at issue in the case.
That law took effect in January 2012 and calls for all public agency employment agreements to require the return of all cash settlements and paid leave salary “if the employee is convicted of a crime involving an abuse of his or her office or position.” Paul’s final contract did not include the language required by the law, nor did his June 13, 2013, retirement agreement terminating his employment.
Paul’s exit deal was negotiated by San Diego attorney Dan Shinoff, who settled a malpractice lawsuit filed by the San Ysidro district for an unrelated grievance back in 2015 for $1.8 million.
A trial in the civil case against Paul has been rescheduled multiple times, and Trejo said the district is trying to convince the court the case “does not need a trial.”
More arguments on the issue will be heard. No new trial date has been set. Paul’s defense attorney Dennis Grady declined to comment.
After resigning, Paul went on to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge in state court, and later a misdemeanor charge in federal court for soliciting campaign cash from a contractor seeking to do work with the school district. He spent two months in prison and paid a $5,000 fine in the federal case, and was fined and did community service in the state case.
Since the guilty pleas were for misdemeanors and not felonies, Paul’s annual $173,526 pension remains intact.
Since Paul’s departure, the county’s southernmost elementary school district, which sits along the U.S.-Mexico border, has seen a lot of change in top leadership and recently lost its superintendent of two years, Julio Fonseca, who left with 18 months’ pay, according to NBC San Diego. Fonseca is also being sued by a former employee for alleged retaliation.
The district’s $250 million school bond program was also blasted by the County Grand Jury in 2016 for reportedly misspending money, double-paying vendors and fulfilling few promises made to voters in 1997.