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Senators on the clock to act on superintendent's lawsuit against GEB

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The Legislature must act quick. They are coming up on the 45-day deadline to give statutory approval on a settlement agreement in Guam DOE superintendent Jon Fernandez's lawsuit against the Guam Education Board in their individual capacity.

The push is now a measure that went up for discussion during a public hearing today. Already faced with making difficult budget cuts, how can Guam DOE afford to pay out the settlement in the case between Superintendent Jon Fernandez and the Guam Education Board?

GEB chairman Mark Mendiola said, "With the litigation and the AG's commitment to represent the board, we did not procure services of another legal counsel but rather we have funding for legal services to settle this case. This case has dragged on long enough and we believe that if we continue on the case it could potentially cost..., with Vice Speaker Therese Terlaje asking about cost, to which Mendiola replied, "$60,000." She then inquired, "You set that aside for legal counsel?", which Mendiola confirmed.

The terms of the settlement includes paying $60,000 in legal fees and wiping his record clean, removing Title 9 allegations against him. This was the discussion on what is now Bill 235 - which would approve the settlement in the case

Supportive testimony given from most like board vice-chair Maria Gutierrez, who said, "I was the board chair when we signed this agreement on October 27, 2017. So I am here to support and I ask the legislature to put this in your next agenda. We need to get this resolved. It's unfortunate that it happened but I know that you are looking for what is in the best interest for the Department of Education."

Deputy Attorney General Kenneth Orcutt calls the proposed resolution reasonable, saying, "The basis for the $60,000 to be paid to Mr. Fernandez is based upon the provision in the law that allows a plaintiff in a civil rights action against the Government of Guam for injunctive relief to obtain attorneys fees. What it comes down to is if a lawsuit is in federal court on a federal theory of liability which it is in this."

It's going on one year since Fernandez returned to lead the government's largest agency. The issue then surrounding his administrative leave and termination after allegations of sexual harassment by a student in May of 2016.

While that investigation has since been thrown out...it ultimately came down to a seven million dollar lawsuit the head of DOE filed against the Guam Education Board. The charges in question were rescinded and expunged from his personnel record. He was out of a job for several months before being reinstated in early 2017, but Fernandez argued that his removal from his position as Superintendent caused him economic harm in loss of income, emotional harm, mental anguish, professional embarrassment, and public humiliation.

The $60,000 settlement now awaits legislative action. Officials today, however, say avoiding taking the matter to trial did prevent them from having to give a much larger payout.

The bill's author, Senator Joe San Agustin, says he hopes to bring the measure up for discussion during their upcoming session.

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