Calif. judge orders Pacifica’s ousted leader to end occupation of network’s offices

By Ben Mook

Summer Reese, former executive director of the Pacifica Foundation, was ordered to vacate the network’s headquarters Monday after an Alameda County Superior Court judge sided with the majority of the Pacifica board who fired her in March.

Reese’s continued occupation of Pacifica’s national office “constitutes trespass and a nuisance,” wrote Judge Ioana Petrou in her ruling. Petrou ordered that Reese leave Pacifica’s headquarters immediately, as her presence there was impeding the foundation from conducting its normal business.

“The Court finds that the current situation is not only far from ideal, but completely untenable,” Petrou wrote.

After Pacifica’s board voted March 14 to dismiss Reese, she questioned the validity of the firing and broke into the foundation’s headquarters with a team of supporters. She has refused to leave or allow entry to members of the board who signed off on her firing and their supporters.

Reese and her supporters on the board then filed a lawsuit April 3 against board members who voted to dismiss her, including Chair Margy Wilkinson. The complaint alleged that Reese’s firing violated Pacifica’s bylaws and was “improper, unlawful and fiscally reckless.” Plaintiffs did not seek monetary damages but asked the court to overturn the board’s decision and immediately reinstate Reese.

Petrou instead sided with the board majority and granted a temporary restraining order against Reese that will be in effect until June 3. The ruling invalidated Reese’s argument that the board majority exceeded its authority in firing her.

Court records show that the board dismissed Reese on the grounds that it lacked a completed background check. The Foundation promoted Reese from interim executive director to executive director in November, and she was required to have a complete background check by Dec. 1, 2013. The check was not completed by that date, and Reese asked for an extension into January.

According to Petrou’s ruling, board members Heather Gray and Richard Uzzell gave Reese a revised employment contract Jan. 30. The contract removed verbiage requiring a background check and changed Reese’s status from an at-will employee, requiring her employers to show cause for dismissal.

Petrou ruled that Gray and Uzzell issued the contract without the consent of the board majority. She voided the January contract, effectively reinstating the earlier contract and its uncompleted request for a background check. Based on the terms of that contract, Petrou ruled that the board was within its bounds to dismiss Reese.

Reese did not respond to a request for comment from Current.

Petrou limited the temporary restraining order to Reese because the majority’s cross-complaint did not name other occupiers. The judge added, however, that the board majority could have other parties added to the order.

Reese will have another chance to argue her case in June, when the court will decide whether to extend the temporary restraining order. Petrou also wrote in her ruling that the ousted executive director is free to pursue a civil lawsuit if she feels she has been wrongly terminated.

UPDATE (9:46 p.m. May 14): Reached by phone Tuesday, Reese said that after she learned of the ruling, she abided by the decision and ended her “occupation” of Pacifica’s headquarters. “I went home this morning,” she said. “I had no intention of going against the judge’s order.”

But she remains concerned about the network. “We’re going to keep fighting on the issues,” Reese said, referring to the board members who opposed her dismissal and other supporters. “There are so many things going on that need to be addressed, and I think that we’re on the right side of the issues.”

Reese said that she planned to keep pursuing the lawsuit and would fight a continuation of the injunction. “It wasn’t the ruling we were hoping for,” Reese said. “But we’ll be back in court June 3. The legal battle has just begun.”

Meanwhile, Pacifica’s leadership has changed the locks on its office doors, and interim Executive Director Bernard Duncan started working in the office Wednesday, according to Margy Wilkinson, chair of Pacifica’s board. Since his April 3 hiring, Duncan had been working out of Pacifica’s KPFA-FM, a few doors down from the foundation’s headquarters.

“We were very pleased with the judge’s ruling,” Wilkinson said. Wilkinson, a listener member on the board of KPFA, was among the board majority that voted to dismiss Reese.

“Now we have to deal with the very real problems that face the network,” Wilkinson said. “I’m just happy to put this sorry episode behind us and move forward in a positive direction.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the June 3 date that marks the expiration of the temporary restraining order.

  • chrisfs

    “It wasn’t the ruling we were hoping for,” Reese said. “But we’ll be back
    in court June 3. The legal battle has just begun.”
    Translation: While I profess to support the network, I’m going to continue to cost it lots of legal fees in order to keep my job, despite knowing first hand how strapped for cash it is.

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