Judge in Pacifica suit affirms earlier decision against former executive director

By Ben Mook

An Alameda County, Calif., judge has upheld her previous ruling that the Pacifica Foundation’s board of directors acted within its bounds when it fired Executive Director Summer Reese earlier this year.

Judge Ioana Petrou made the ruling Monday, a day before both Reese and the board were to appear in court to argue the matter. In her opinion, Petrou wrote that based on her earlier ruling, the board would likely prevail and that reversing the decision would cause “great harm.”

Petrou gave Reese and her legal team until 5 p.m. Pacific time Monday to contest the ruling. A permanent injunction went into effect when the order was not challenged. The injunction bans Reese from Pacifica’s Berkeley, Calif., headquarters for the duration of the remaining trial.

Petrou also upheld her earlier rulings that the board acted within its scope of authority in firing Reese and that a board member, contested by some other board members as being in breach of the foundation’s bylaws, was a legitimate member of the board.

After the board fired Reese March 14, she contested the decision and broke into the foundation’s headquarters with a team of supporters. From there she continued to work as executive director until Petrou’s initial ruling last month.

Reese and her supporters on the board then filed a lawsuit April 3 against the 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 sought no monetary damages but asked the court to overturn the board’s decision and immediately reinstate Reese.

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 provide a complete background check by Dec. 1, 2013.

Petrou ruled that the requirement had not been met and the board had the authority to terminate Reese.

The parties will appear in court June 12 over a motion from Reese to disqualify the board’s lawyer from representing the organization.

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