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OC Board of Ed Trustee Beckie Gomez faces lawsuit over concurrent elected positions

Orange County Board of Education Trustee Rebecca “Beckie” Gomez is facing a legal challenge regarding her elected seat.

Santa Ana resident and GOP Assembly candidate Mike Tardif filed a lawsuit last month seeking to remove Gomez from the OCBE because she is also simultaneously serving on the Tustin City Council.

Her council post is “unlawfully incompatible” with her work on the OCBE, the lawsuit alleged. It seeks to have her forfeit her OCBE post because she was more recently elected to the city council.

Gomez, often the lone dissenting voice on the OCBE, declined to comment on the lawsuit but said she plans to publicly address it when the board convenes Wednesday for a regularly-scheduled meeting.

The lawsuit is similar to legal action taken last year by an Orange County resident against Trustee Tim Shaw, which led him to resign his seat on the board in November. But in a twist, Shaw left his La Habra City Council post a month later and asked to be appointed back to the OCBE. The board then re-appointed Shaw, with Gomez dissenting, during a rushed selection process where the outcome seemed pre-ordained.

That appointment led to a second lawsuit against Shaw by a La Habra constituent, Michael Sean Wright, who challenged how Shaw was appointed to the OCBE. In April, an Orange County Superior Court judge granted a temporary restraining order prohibiting Shaw from serving on the board.

Orange County Board of Education Trustee Tim Shaw (Photo courtesy of Tim Shaw)

The issue was to return to court, but the two sides — Shaw and Wright — settled earlier this month.

Shaw called the lawsuit an attempt to politically derail him as he ran for re-election June 7. Shaw and fellow incumbents Mari Barke and Lisa Sparks are readily beating their opponents, with final election results pending.

RELATED: Election 2022: Incumbents lead Orange County Board of Education, superintendent races

“There’s no question the lawsuit was filed so it could be used in a campaign against me,” Shaw said Monday.

“It was all politically motivated,” he said, adding that one of his opponents, Paulette Chaffee, referred to the lawsuit frequently. “It was in her mail pieces, ads, texts. Every word out of her mouth was talking about the lawsuit.”

Shaw is leading his three opponents in Trustee Area 2, netting more than 50% of the ballots tallied as of Monday.

Lee Fink, an attorney for Wright, said “preserving the Democratic process” — not politics — was the goal of the legal challenge.

“Our interest was simply to make sure that our elected officials follow the law,” Fink said. “There is a rule against self-appointment.”

The judge’s temporary restraining order ruling, Fink said, “vindicated the public’s right and interest in enforcing the rules that support democratic self governance.”

Meanwhile, the newest lawsuit alleging Gomez has a conflict of interest because she serves on both the OCBE and the Tustin City Council came from Tardif, owner of a sheet metal business and a candidate for the 68th Assembly District. The lawsuit targeted Gomez specifically, meaning she would have to cover her own legal expenses if she chooses to fight it.

Gomez was elected to the Tustin City Council in 2020 after previously serving on it from 2010-2018. She is the former mayor pro tem.

If Gomez chooses to leave the OCBE, that would mean the four trustees she’s been butting heads with in recent years will get to appoint her replacement to complete her term which is up in 2024.

With the exception of Gomez, the board is dominated by a conservative majority that has fought against pandemic mandates — such as face masks, social distancing, and vaccines in schools — and is eager to bring more charter schools to Orange County.

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