Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Giodude
Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Giodude

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has nullified a nearly $400,000 severance agreement between Pasadena City College and its previous president after finding that school trustees broke open meetings laws while negotiating the deal.

Mark W. Rocha agreed to step down as the college’s president last August after nearly four years in the position. As part of the pact, he was allowed to help prepare the news release announcing his retirement and received a letter of recommendation from the college’s Board of Trustees, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

Some faculty and students had criticized Rocha for his management style and for approving the cancellation of a winter session. A nonprofit group, Californians Aware, filed a lawsuit claiming that the college’s Board of Trustees violated the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state’s open meetings laws, by not discussing and taking action on Rocha’s retirement and severance package in public.

The Times had also sent a letter to the college detailing its own concerns over alleged Brown Act violations. College officials denied any wrongdoing but L.A. County Superior Court Judge Joanne O’Donnell issued a ruling Wednesday saying the college violated California’s open meetings laws by discussing Rocha’s retirement and severance compensation during closed sessions.

The judge nullified the deal but also denied Californians Aware’s request to review records of the closed session. Rocha’s attorney, Michael M. Amir, said he had not seen the ruling and declined comment.

It is unclear if and when Rocha would have to return the payment. O’Donnell ruled that the college must file papers within 90 days detailing how the settlement will be undone or report progress in a new agreement that complies with the Brown Act, according to The Times.

—City News Service

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