A new lawsuit claims that Fresno Unified trustee Brooke Ashjian should be required to pay the district damages for failing to disclose his interests in local construction companies, which forced the district to spend millions on rebidding contracts.
The lawsuit was filed on July 27 by Fresno Watchdogs for Ethical Bidding, an organization whose members attorney Kenneth Mackie has declined to identify. Fresno Unified is named as a real party in interest.
Mackie says the suit was filed to preserve the statute of limitations on a complaint that Ashjian failed to properly disclose his interests while Mackie seeks a named plaintiff from the organization.
“We’re waiting for someone to come forward,” Mackie said. “The threat of retaliation is very real.”
Ashjian says Mackie isn’t waiting for a plaintiff, but that the attorney doesn’t have one.
Ashjian said if Mackie does identify a plaintiff, it will be someone who had an interest in the lease-leaseback contracts that landed Fresno Unified in court.
“Whatever your opinion of our current president, ‘drain the swamp’ is exactly what I did at Fresno Unified. You’ll never see lease-leaseback contracts again,” Ashjian said. “Lease-leaseback enriched just a few.”
The suit’s prayer for damages asks for money “in the amount necessary to make real party in interest Fresno Unified School District whole for all costs, fees, and expenses incurred as a direct and/or proximate result of Ashjian’s breaches of fiduciary duties to the District,” among other fees. A previous Bee article reported that Ashjian’s conflicts of interest have cost the district upwards of $2.7 million, with the bulk of the money coming from rebidding a contract at Figarden Elementary, according to Mackie.
This is not the first time Ashjian and Mackie have battled through the courts. A lawsuit over the name “Fresno Watchdogs for Ethical Bidding” has stalled as Ashjian’s attorneys seek to compel Mackie to identify his clients, who are suing Ashjian for misappropriation of a trade name. Mackie said Ashjian incorporated the group’s name and then sent the attorney a cease-and-desist letter.
The identification request “seeks information protected by the attorney—client privilege, the right to privacy, and the right to freedom of association,” according to an opposition to the motion filed by Mackie.
Mackie has also previously filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission over Ashjian’s failure to properly disclose his interests in his 700 form, which is required of elected officials.
FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga said the investigation is still ongoing.