A nonprofit Murrieta law firm with a reputation for defending Christian conservatives will represent the Temecula Valley Unified School District in a lawsuit challenging the district’s ban on critical race theory.
In a special meeting, a divided Temecula school board Wednesday night, Aug. 9, accepted an offer from Advocates for Faith & Freedom to defend the public school district against the lawsuit announced Wednesday, Aug. 2, by Public Counsel’s Opportunity Under Law project, which is suing on behalf of the Temecula teacher’s union and eight students in the district, among others.
The lawsuit, filed in Riverside County Superior Court, alleges the critical race theory ban “hinders Temecula educators’ ability to teach state-mandated content standards, prepare for the coming academic year, and support rather than stifle student inquiry.”
The Temecula school board’s conservative majority — Joseph Komrosky, Danny Gonzalez and Jen Wiersma — enacted the ban the same December night it took office, roughly a month after winning three of five board seats with the backing of conservative Pastor Tim Thompson and a Christian conservative political action committee.
At the time, the majority said critical race theory — originally a term used to describe a graduate school course of study — was hateful and divisive and taught children to judge others by skin color, not character.
Critics argue the ban whitewashes truthful and important lessons about the role of race in U.S. history. The ban sparked two walkout protests by district high school students.
Advocates for Faith & Freedom specializes in representing Christian conservatives and their causes. It fought on behalf of California Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage before being overturned in court.
While the firm agrees to represent the district free of charge, the district “will be responsible to pay the costs associated with this litigation such as court filing fees, deposition fees, and other costs incurred by (the firm),” according to a copy of the contract between the firm and district.
The firm’s more recent clients include Jessica Tapia, a former Jurupa Valley High School gym teacher who sued after alleging she was fired for refusing to hide students’ transgender identities from their parents.
The vote announced by Komrosky was 3-1, with Komrosky, Wiersma and Gonzalez voting yes and board member Steven Schwartz opposed. Komrosky said board member Allison Barclay abstained.
Critics who spoke at Wednesday night’s meeting assailed the decision to use the firm.
“This law firm absolutely has a right to take on cases in the private sector,” Julie Geary said.
“But once again, you are the government. The government cannot hire a law firm with a very specific religious ideology because that is discriminatory for the public, which you’re supposed to represent.”
Daniel Molina supported the firm’s hiring, calling it a “most affordable representation in defense of this ridiculous lawsuit.”
Komrosky said the district has to provide “a pretty swift response” to the lawsuit.
“Me, personally, I want this lawsuit to be destroyed by an awesome constitutional lawyer that would work pro bono on behalf of the district,” he said. “Quite frankly, if this goes to the Supreme Court of the United States, awesome.”
This isn’t the first time the majority has looked to outside counsel. In February, the majority voted to hire another law firm to give the board legal advice, citing issues with the district’s standing legal counsel.
“The whole idea of hiring yet again another law firm to represent the school board is the result of imprudent behavior taken by fellow board members at the very first board meeting,” Schwartz said.
“At that time, I implored them not to rush into a ban on (critical race theory). But my words fell on deaf ears.”
The board should reverse its critical race theory ban “now” and wait until the district is formally served with the lawsuit — getting advice from a joint insurance group of which the district is a part — before taking the “totally unnecessary” step of hiring the Faith & Freedom firm, Schwartz added.
Commotion broke out when Gonzalez moved to end discussion and call for the question. As Komrosky moved to do so, shouts of “Dictator!” and “Kick me out! I don’t care” erupted from the audience, prompting Komrosky, who is the board president, to clear half the room.
“This is a complete travesty,” Barclay said after the vote.
“This is not how a board works. This is not how a school district works. I am disgusted. We’re throwing away millions of dollars,” she said. “We’re a member of a (joint insurance group) that will pay for this 100% and they want to take us to the Supreme Court? You will be paying for this for decades. Decades.”