Local Leaders Protest Schools’ Legal Deals

DSC_0726By Mario A. Cortez

Education and civil rights leaders from throughout San Diego County showed up at the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) to speak out against a local law firm which has been handling 90 percent of school district legal cases throughout San Diego County.

The National Action Network’s San Diego chapter held a press conference on the SDCOE premises prior to Wednesday’s scheduled board meeting to raise its concerns with the law firm of Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz, and specifically its senior partner, Daniel Shinoff.

“Today, we will begin a strategy in dealing with the Shinoff Law Group and the SDCOE’s use of this law group,” stated the Reverend Shane Harris, President of the National Action Network’s San Diego chapter.

In his statement, Harris stated that out of a pool of law firms used by the SDCOE, Shinoff’s firm is chosen 90 percent of the time. Harris contents that the SDCOE Joint Powers Authority (JPA) has an amiable relationship with the firm.

The SDCOE’s Joint Powers Authority is a self-insurance mechanism created among all the school districts in both San Diego and Imperial County. The JPA handles legal cases for all of its school districts for cases much like an insurance carrier would.

Harris also spoke about the law firm’s history of targeting minority education leaders in San Diego County through legal actions such as lawsuits and restraining orders, which are funded with taxpayer money.

“Shinoff continues to take money out of the hands of our children through litigation and intimidation through litigation,” stated Chris Garnier, Vice-President of the National Action Network and parent of two children in the Poway Unified School District, in the brief press conference held prior to the board meeting on Wednesday.

“I want to be very clear that they are trying to shut down media presence on this issue,” Harris finalized before entering the SDCOE Board meeting.

At the start of the board meeting, the group protesting the use of the Shinoff law firm spoke prior to general items on the agenda. The group of educators brought up Shinoff’s history of going after minority education leaders and landing a disproportionate amount of legal cases from the County Office of Education through administrative favoritism.

“Shinoff has taken $29 million and he is getting 90 percent of the work. We believe he is getting favoritism from the Joint Powers Authority and their director, Mrs. Diane Crosier, and we are here to put the board on notice and stop this kind of back deal work he is doing and make sure he is no longer doing dishonest work,” said Escondido Union School District Trustee Jose Fragozo to the board.

“Dan Shinoff is abusing the legal system and taking money from our schools for his unethical practices. Dan Shinoff almost bankrupted the San Ysidro School District,” said Kim Garnier, wife of Chris Garnier, to the SDCOE board.

Chris Garnier of the National Action Network then spoke before the SDCOE Board to testify about Shinoff’s abusive practices.

“There is a restraining order against me from my kids’ elementary school. They are removing the principal because they realized they messed up, but Dan Shinoff was the one who brought this restraining order against me,” said Garnier “Right now he has spent about $500,000 fighting against me. We all know that without board approval, [Shinoff and Superintendent John Collins] decided to go for a restraining order against me,” Garnier added.

Carmen Miranda of Escondido spoke about the impact of the use of money on legal fees in her school district.

“We have 76 percent of our kids failing. English learners are four grades behind. Shinoff is draining the money for our kids, teachers, and classrooms. I see the impact every day at school. And ask that you stop any business deals with Shinoff,” Miranda said.

During the meeting, Reverend Harris also brought up the relationship between Crosier and Shinoff.

“Here is a history that I find interesting, there’s a direct link between Diane Crosier and Shinoff,” Reverend Harris explained. “Dan Shinoff is taking 90 percent of these cases through the SDCOE JPA and is getting paid by tax money which comes from taxpayers,” reiterated Harris.

Diane Crosier, the Executive Director of the JPA, has a long history with Daniel Shinoff. They worked together at an insurance company over 30 years ago that handled legal cases for the SDCOE before it created the JPA. Shinoff then went to law school and joined the firm that would later bear his name. Crosier, still at the insurance company, referred cases to Shinoff’s firm.  A few years later, Crosier herself became a lawyer and joined Shinoff’s firm.

When the SDCOE decided to create its own JPA to handle legal cases, Shinoff was on the selection committee to hire the new Executive Director. Who was hired? Diane Crosier.

Since her arrival at the JPA, critics have complained that Shinoff’s law firm received preferencial treatment in case assignments, netting the firm millions of dollars. In the past three years, Shinoff’s firm received over $4.6 million in legal fees from the SDCOE. Critics also argue that Shinoff represented Crosier’s son in a personal legal matter, further creating a perception of personal connections.

After the group’s participation in the board meeting, Reverend Harris spoke with La Prensa San Diego about the day’s appearance.

“The goal is to try to mend a conversation with the SDCOE so we get to talk about what Shinoff is doing, which is making deals with the Office of Education’s Joint Powers Authority. We want to have a conversation and are calling for some kind of investigation,” stated Harris.

The group will be meeting with the SDCOE board in the coming weeks. The group advocating for the dismissal of Shinoff hopes to resolve the matter behind closed doors rather than making this matter a public issue.

“Tonight the board was pretty receptive, so our goal is to move from their receptive nature, on to resolving this issue so we can work towards what we are calling for. They have to cut Shinoff,” concluded Reverend Harris.

The National Action Network members plan to attend the next SDCOE Board meeting on June 8, and other future meetings, if Shinoff is not dropped by the Office of Education.

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