File photo.
File photo.

A judge ruled Tuesday that the Centinela Valley Union High School District can countersue for breach-of-contract and fraud a former superintendent who alleges the district destroyed his career and reputation and used him as a scapegoat after media reports surfaced about his salary.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Rico rejected arguments by attorneys for Jose Fernandez that district lawyers had the same  information in 2014 that they claim they belatedly obtained and which forms the basis for the countersuit.

Among the allegations in the countersuit are that Hernandez did not tell the district that he had a bankruptcy on his record when the two sides negotiated to provide him assistance on a housing loan.

The countersuit also alleges that Fernandez passed resolutions through the board giving him a $750,000 life insurance policy even though he was not entitled to it under his contract. Fernandez also failed to work 215 full days as required by his contract, ignored audit proposals by the Los Angeles County Office of Education related to his work performance and obtained the advice of attorneys paid for by the district for his own personal use and gain, the countersuit alleges.

Fernandez filed his original lawsuit in April 2015 and then an amended complaint in December. His allegations include breach of contract, retaliation and defamation. The district maintains that thousands of pages of documents had to be reviewed before the countersuit could be filed.

Fernandez received national attention when it was revealed that he received more than $660,000 in salary and benefits. He was fired in August 2014 by the school board after an internal examination into his compensation.

The suit credits Fernandez with a turnaround of the district’s finances from being on the brink of insolvency to having surpluses; the passage of bond measures to fund the building of new facilities; the development of the Centinela Valley Center for the Arts; and a substantial improvement in student test scores and graduation rates.

District attorneys reviewed Fernandez’s contract after the local media became focused upon it and found the terms to be valid, according to the suit. Fernandez, in good faith, offered to give up some of the benefits to which he was entitled in order to ease public concern, the suit says.

“Plaintiff offered to take less compensation and benefits to appease concerns in order to serve out his contract term,” according to the lawsuit.

Fernandez says he was put on paid administrative leave in April 2014 and then on unpaid leave a month later.

—City News Service

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