This is Episode 17 in the story of the formation, rise and fall of the little education collective that used to exist up here on our mountain. I wrote and posted this account three years ago on my blog and then pulled it off because someone whose name I had not changed, objected. Now I have changed both the name of the little school itself, and the names of everyone who might be negatively impacted, and plan to re-post the story, one episode per day, until all 32 are again on my blog.
The questions we asked Barry Vogel, prior to the court trial involving Imika’s claim that her First Amendment Rights had been violated by Bell Springs Collective, reflected both our concern for the gravity of the situation, and our desire to have each member’s needs addressed appropriately.
By the time this legal development in Federal Court was unfolding the first time in 1992, the families in the collective had moved on, putting the children into the school system down in Laytonville. Many of us had managed to put Imika behind us, especially after she enrolled Misha in the Mendocino Unified School District, thereby distancing her that much more.
Having gathered together at Will’s house, the designated liaison between the group and Barry, we brainstormed questions for which he provided answers:
- In our phone conversation you discuss the issue of professional counseling. What does this mean?
“Chintz stated that she sought and received professional counseling with Dr. Huff, a psychiatrist. She alleges this was necessary because of certain things she claims you and the school district did to her. I believe that she has needed psychiatric counseling for a long time. If she continues to allege that you are the sole cause for this need, we will have her examined by a psychiatrist of our choosing. This will be done in an attempt to prove that she is fundamentally nuts, and that whatever you may have done, if in fact you did anything at all, had absolutely no relationship to her emotional disturbance.”
- Can someone sign the waiver to have you represent them and drop out at a later date?
“The waiver that I want each of you to sign essentially is an acknowledgement that you know I am representing multiple defendants in the same lawsuit...An attorney-client relationship can be terminated at any time at the sole discretion of the client. With certain limitations on notice, and an opportunity to get other counsel, the attorney may also terminate the relationship. Anyone can drop out at a later date.”
- What is the probable timetable for this court action?
“The short run timetable is for me to get a unilateral extension of the 20 days in answer from the court. The complaint is complicated and interwoven with her earlier state court cases. After that, the following time table is set out in the material that should have been served on each of you set out in General Order No. 34, in the group of papers called Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt of Summons and Complaint.”
- Once we respond, what is the next step?
“The next step after the response depends on what our response is. It may well be a motion to dismiss at least part of the complaint. If not, it will be a court controlled conference to identify the issues to be tried. The court will also set a schedule for discovery and trial. Discovery means each side has the opportunity to interview and collect facts about the case f the other side.”
- If something in the complaint is totally wrong, like the dates, is that grounds for dismissal?
“Statute of limitations affect wrong dates. Since Chintz filed a verified complaint...she has sworn that all the facts stated in the complaint are true. It is difficult to later come around and give other information. I will need to have each of you go over the complaint to identify the incorrect facts and dates. I want you to give me the information you have, to show the facts are wrong and the ones you propose are correct.”
- If you are identified, but no specific allegations are made against you, can you still be tried?
“I see this as a problem for Chintz. She has named many of you, but did not state that you did any specific act against her. She does say early on that each of you are the agent and employee of the other. That allegation is generally not sufficient to keep a person in the case. The specifics will be determined when I take her deposition. If there are no specifics, the chances then are very good that those persons can be dismissed from the case.”
- Point: Judge Orr is seeing if he can get Chintz on the list of vexatious litigants. Will this be of any help?
“I believe that she has crossed over the line and is now a vexatious litigant. Further research needs to be done on this. We will discuss it when we meet on Friday.”
There was so much to discuss. The overwhelming nature of the claims were enough without having to think about defending ourselves in court. There were eight causes of action in Chintz’s complaint. The first was a detailed history of the Wellspring Collective, from its inception through its demise, the intent being to establish its existence and then to claim that by excluding her, we had deprived her daughter of her constitutional rights.
The complaint spared no detail, as it chronicled the development of the preschool, the one-room school house, the road issue, and the acrimonious relationship that had existed during the late eighties. In naming the school district and members of the school board, and maintaining that they had been involved in the formation of Bell Springs was the height of ridiculous, and it seemed that that error in her complaint might cost her the ballgame.
One of her concluding arguments had been that as a unit, we of Bell Springs had met together after the school was red-tagged and closed, to investigate the rekindling of the school on another site. We did not invite the Chintzes to participate in these planning meetings, and thus denied Imika her right to contribute to these meetings.
Another of her contentions contained within this first cause of action (which went from Civil Rights Complaint Page 7 to Civil Rights Complaint Page 19) was that I had endangered Misha’s life with my reckless driving, and that acts of vandalism had been committed on her property.
We remained flummoxed that this was all really happening, and there were still seven causes of action to sift through.