Former president Mark Rocha’s $400,000 severance package was nullified by a Los Angeles County Superior court judge on Wednesday when she ruled that the Board of Trustees broke open meeting laws in the negotiation process.
Superior Court Judge Joanne O’Donnell ruled that the board and Rocha didn’t properly list the negotiation of his severance package on the closed session agenda last August and states that the board is to reach a new agreement with Rocha that complies with open-meeting laws.
Californians Aware, a non-profit organization, originally filed the suit against the board in September. Kelly Aviles, Californians Aware’s legal representative in this case, said that she was pleased by the outcome of the case.
“We can only make sure that PCC follows the right process,” Aviles said. “Far too often are these decisions made without properly disclosing what the closed session items are. That is usually because the organization wants to do this without anyone knowing.”
“The Board is aware of the Court’s ruling and is considering next steps,” board president Berlinda Brown said in an email to the Courier. “The Board cannot comment further as the matter concerns pending litigation.”
Trustee Anthony Fellow, who was board president when the severance package was voted on, said that he was “out of the country when the vote was taken” and couldn’t comment further on the matter.
Aviles said that it was “alarming” that it had to come to this. She said that Californians Aware had sent the board a warning telling them they were out of compliance with open-meeting laws and to conduct the process properly, but the board didn’t respond.
Aviles said that Californians Aware would seek reimbursement of legal fees from PCC.
Rocha and the board both denied any violations and claimed in February that they were able to use the term “anticipated litigation” when discussing his deal last August during closed session because there was a threat of litigation.
“The subject matter of the Board’s meeting relative to Rocha was not compensation, but rather, negotiated terms for a settlement which would include his retirement and a general release of claims,” the Board stated in its answer to the suit. “At all times during these precedent negotiations, with the threat of litigation, Rocha was represented by counsel as was the Board.”
Rocha’s attorney, Michael M. Amir, did not immediately return a phone message requesting comment on this story.
The college had announced Rocha’s retirement in late August, saying in a statement that he would receive $403,826, plus up to $16,000 in “reasonable” legal expenses from the District.