The Fresno County District Attorney’s Office has warned the Fresno Unified school board to comply with state laws that keep closed meetings confidential.
In a letter dated Oct. 21, the District Attorney’s Office advised then-school board president Luis Chavez that state law forbids the disclosure of confidential information that is acquired during closed session. Such information typically involves personnel or legal matters.
“Violations of this section may be investigated and prosecuted by this office,” wrote Deputy DA Robert Mangano, with the county’s Public Integrity Unit, according to a document obtained by The Bee. “Legal counsel should be consulted if it is unclear whether a particular course of action is authorized by law.”
A violation of closed-meeting laws could include injunctive relief, disciplinary action and referral to the criminal grand jury, according to the letter.
The letter from the District Attorney’s Office came about a month after Fresno Unified sent out a news release alluding to an “unprecedented and intensely complicated pressing legal matter.” While the school district alerted the public to that matter in September, officials never released details, saying conversations were to be had in closed session.
Violations of this section may be investigated and prosecuted by this office.
Robert Mangano, Fresno County deputy district attorney
Sources later said the mysterious news release pertained to school board president Brooke Ashjian’s business deals. Last month, the California Fair Political Practices Commission opened an investigation into allegations that Ashjian – a top critic of Superintendent Michael Hanson – had broken conflict-of-interest laws and failed to fully report his income.
Earlier this year, former trustee Janet Ryan accused Ashjian of breaking closed-session laws, but Ashjian denied that charge.
Ashjian said Wednesday that he was unclear about what the district attorney’s letter in October was regarding.
This is not the first time the district attorney has become interested in Fresno Unified matters.
In another letter, dated Oct. 25 and addressed to Trustee Carol Mills, Mangano clarifies that telephone messages sent out by the school district regarding Measure X did not violate the law.
Mills, an opponent of the $225 million bond measure passed in November, said Wednesday that she had inquired about the matter after a constituent raised concerns about whether the phone messages were promoting the bond, which is prohibited.
The DA’s Office could not be reached.