Trial date set in fracas at Madera Irrigation District

A member of the Madera Irrigation District board who was suspended after a physical confrontation could be banned for life from the agency's headquarters if a judge grants a request for a permanent restraining order.

Madera County Superior Court Judge Eric Wyatt has set a September trial date in a civil case that the district filed against Ron Pistoresi, its former general manager.

The district has accused Pistoresi, a past president and current member of the board, of abusing and intimidating employees.

Pistoresi's attorney said Friday that his client simply was a no-nonsense boss who is being attacked for political reasons. The district delivers water to farmers from the Millerton Lake reservoir.

Pistoresi was board president and the district's general manager until March, when he stepped down from the presidency and Alan Turner succeeded him as general manager.

On June 18, an argument following a board meeting turned physical. Turner alleged that Pistoresi spit on him and hit him in the face in the district's headquarters.

Madera County District Attorney Ernest LiCalsi said Friday that his office still is looking into the allegations and has not decided whether to file criminal charges.

After that incident, Wyatt granted a temporary restraining order that bars Pistoresi from going within 100 feet of the district's headquarters or talking to employees, except during board meetings.

The board then voted to suspend him. The board is scheduled to discuss the suspension again Aug. 7 and could lift it, officials said.

Court documents that district officials filed in seeking the restraining orders allege that Pistoresi has a long history of abusive behavior and intimidation.

"I am afraid if he comes back to the office he will attack me or another employee," Turner said in a request for a temporary restraining order.

A letter from the Madera Irrigation District Employee Association to LiCalsi said Pistoresi is "a bully who rules by intimidation and threatening District employees," and that the current legal action is the "culmination of years of acts and incidents swept under the carpet."

In court documents, board member Jim Cavallero said he has seen Pistoresi's temper. "Mr. Pistoresi tends to become easily agitated, and will curse at and belittle employees."

Board President Carl Janzen filed a statement acknowledging that employees approached him several times with concerns and complaints about the former board president being "verbally abusive."

District operations and maintenance chief Mike Cunningham alleged that in addition to frequent cursing rants, Pistoresi often ordered him to fire other employees while in a rage, only to change his mind after calming down.

Gary Estrada, a ditch tender, said he tried unsuccessfully to switch irrigation districts in 2005 to avoid Pistoresi. Estrada alleged he was always on "pins and needles" around Pistoresi because Pistoresi cursed at him and threatened to fire him while he worked on Pistoresi's ranch irrigation.

District employee Cindi Rascoe said in court papers that she felt threatened.

"I have had to lock my office on previous occasions because of his erratic and volatile behavior," she wrote.

Pistoresi's attorney Nicholas Wagner said the allegations against his client are all subjective and unfounded. "He's never threatened anybody."