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​​​​​Orange County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares addresses the recent settlement agreement with the Orange County Board of Education  

In February, I agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by three members of the OC Board of Education over the process of hiring the Orange County Department of Education’s in-house legal counsel in 2018.

While it would be disingenuous for any party to declare absolute victory in a legal settlement, the terms of our agreement were deemed acceptable by both sides, allowing OCDE to move forward with its current general counsel while preserving the option, which already existed, for board members to contract with other attorneys should they find it necessary. 

But now, weeks after the ink has dried, the same members of the OC Board of Education who filed the lawsuit are attempting to reshape the narrative as a “precedent-setting” win for their side. This represents a blatant and desperate attempt to distract the public from the reality that they spent millions of taxpayer dollars in litigation only to end up right back where they started. Moreover, they are disrespecting the Superior Court judge who characterized the settlement as a fair and neutral resolution — and who cautioned all parties against falsely declaring victory.

A quick review of the facts are in order. 

In 2018, I invited the OC Board of Education's Executive Committee, which included then-President Dr. Jack Bedell, to participate in the general counsel interviews. After​​ following an inclusive process, we were extremely fortunate to land Jeff Riel, who, with more than 20 years experience in education law, is an asset not just to OCDE but the entire county.

The board did not object to the process until a new board majority came into power and retroactively tried to overturn the hire. (This is the same board majority that, in addition to filing a string of recent lawsuits, recommended in July 2020 that students return to their classrooms during an escalating pandemic without face coverings or physical distancing as required by law.)

I would of course like to publicly and objectively summarize the entire case here. But instead I will encourage anyone who is interested to simply read the settle​ment agreement, outlining the concessions made by both sides. Then ask yourself this: If the board majority truly believed a victory in this case was imminent, why did they settle? And when has any settlement without a proper court ruling ever been considered ​precedent-setting? Have you ever heard an attorney cite a “landmark settlement” to win a case?

The fact is that court cases are typically settled through compromise to prevent further losses, including financial resources and time. Both are precious and finite — and especially now. 

The Orange County Department of Education is leading an unprecedented mobilization in partnership with the OC Health Care Agency and local school districts to vaccinate thousands of school employees. This is an historic campaign, and it comes on top of the work we do every day to serve the county’s most vulnerable student populations and to support 28 independent school districts. We gladly accept this role, knowing that the steps we’re taking will accelerate the return of in-person learning five-days a week, and it will contribute to our economic recovery.

The OC board majority, on the other hand, clearly has different priorities, and perhaps they have more time to engage in political posturing despite the judge’s admonitions. But rather than engaging further in a fruitless tit-for-tat, my office will remain accutely ​​​focused on the mission to bring all students and employees back to school safely. 

In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about the settlement agreement, you don’t need to take anyone’s word for it. 

Read the document.​​ Decide for yourself.

Al Mijares, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools​​