Encinal coach's lawsuit: Ruling appealed


The lawsuit filed by a former Encinal School basketball coach against the school's Parent Teacher Organization and three of its officers has moved out of the local courtroom and up to the appellate court level after the defendants appealed a San Mateo County Superior Court judge's ruling in November.

Parent Lawrence Hecimovich filed the lawsuit last year after being stripped of his volunteer coaching position, which he had held for two years. Encinal PTO officers denied him the position as a result of conflicts arising during the 2008-09 school year, when Mr. Hecimovich attempted to address a fourth-grader's alleged behavioral problems.

The volunteer PTO officers named in the lawsuit are parents Kelly Perri, Julie Roth, and Leslie Burke.

In November, Judge Gerald Buchwald denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the lawsuit on grounds that it violated California's "anti-SLAPP" law. That law prohibits lawsuits brought primarily for the purpose of intimidating others into making concessions rather than face a costly court fight.

Judge Buchwald also ruled that Mr. Hecimovich's complaint was legally insufficient; he allowed Mr. Hecimovich to amend the complaint, which he did in December.

Robert Muhlbach, the defendants' attorney, said his clients have appealed Judge Buchwald's ruling that the anti-SLAPP law doesn't apply, and now the matter is in the Court of Appeals facing a process that is likely to take 18 months to two years.

The three defendants in the case declined to comment, but Mr. Muhlbach said it is their intent to convince the court that the actions they took as PTO officers are protected by the First Amendment, and therefore the lawsuit should be dismissed entirely.

"Our goal with the anti-SLAPP (defense) isn't to refute, point by point, what we consider spurious claims by Mr. Hecimovich," he said. But if the appeal is unsuccessful, he added, "We have every intent to defend (their position) in court."

In his lawsuit, Mr. Hecimovich, a deputy city attorney for San Francisco, is seeking reinstatement as a head coach in the program, punitive damages in an unspecified amount, and costs associated with the lawsuit. Among causes of action listed in the suit are libel and slander, negligence, infliction of emotional distress, and fraud.

Effects of dispute

In an e-mail exchange with The Almanac, Mr. Hecimovich said it was "never my intention to seek damages (or to sue) based on being denied a coaching slot. Rather, what I wanted to address was the total lack of a review process for decisions by PTO volunteer administrators."

His fight with the PTO, he said, has had tangible results. "I think it is significant that, in response to my claims, the PTO has adopted a comprehensive set of policies governing the basketball program ... . The policies, which every parent must sign, provide the kinds of behavioral guidelines (for players, parents and coaches) and right of appeal of administrative decisions, up to the PTO Board itself, that were explicitly denied me."

Go to The Almanac's Nov. 2 article for more information about the case.

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Like this comment
Posted by Evesdropper
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 18, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Just because you make a public statement doesn't make it the truth. Mr. Hecimovich was given a more than fair review process that included many, many painful hours trying to sort this out. Once the decision was made to protect the district in regard to childrens' safety, he was still invited to meet with School Superintendent Ranella to discuss the issue. I challenge his response to The Almanac about never intending to seek damages. He has handled this like a big bully and it was always his intent to get his own way through intimidation. The fact that he's going to waste the time of an appellate court is proof enough. In 18 months to two years his youngest child will be long gone from Encinal so who exactly will he be coaching? This is all about throwing his weight around because it's not costing him anything other than filing fees. The volunteers who are caught up in this, on the other hand, have to pay for legal counsel and live under this stress which I'm sure makes him feel so powerful. Never a better illustration of the famous old saying "a lawyer who represents himself has a fool as his client."

Like this comment
Posted by M Kremer
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Jan 18, 2011 at 6:42 pm

Mr. Hecimovich has made a mountain out of molehill, and with his actions (including his legal knowledge), has bullied and intimidated well-intentioned parents (who now have to be worried of financial punishment). According to the article, he has accomplished much of what he intended now (e.g. new processes). Mr. Hecimovich, please stop the madness, and call it a day. We all live in this community and lets behave like civil adults. Is this the imprint you want for your children's education and life in a community?

Like this comment
Posted by Enough Already
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 18, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Mr. Hecimovich states that it was never his intention to seek damages or to sue, rather it was to address the review process for PTO volunteers. As he also states, processes have been put into place and the basketball program now has clear policies, as a "tangible result" of his complaint.

Then isn't that mission accomplished? Why is anything continuing? It is time to move on.

Like this comment
Posted by Moving
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 18, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Isn't it interesting that so many people criticize those who take legal action when they feel wronged...until they get into such a predicament themselves.

Like this comment
Posted by Interesting
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 19, 2011 at 10:48 am

I find it concerning that an attorney who represents the SF Unified School District feels justified in suing his neighbors who volunteer for for a similar school district. Seems like unethical conduct on the part of Mr. Hecimovich. I am sure this could have gotten handled in a more constructive manner than the path he has chosen.

Like this comment
Posted by Really... Really??
a resident of Encinal School
on Jan 19, 2011 at 1:09 pm

[Portion removed. Please avoid personal attacks.]

If what you stated to the Almanac was true... (taken from the article) "it was never my intention to seek damages (or to sue) based on being denied a coaching slot. Rather, what I wanted to address was the total lack of a review process for decisions by PTO volunteer administrators."

Well Larry, you got what you wanted so drop the suit!!! The PTO, because of your actions, has reviewed and updated the coaching selection and incident review process. [Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Give me a Break
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 20, 2011 at 7:05 pm

In response to Moving --
"Isn't it interesting that so many people criticize those who take legal action when they feel wronged...until they get into such a predicament themselves."

Completely agree with your statement, but disagree that you need to take legal action every time you feel wronged. Give me a break! This is elementary school basketball for goodness sake! Let's sue about big issues, not getting our feelings hurt.

Like this comment
Posted by Laurel Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 22, 2011 at 11:40 am

This lawsuit is deeply disturbing - clearly the actions of a very selfish individual who is incapable of seeing the bigger picture. I feel very sorry for the volunteers who have been dragged into this.

Another strange aspect of this situation is that Mr. Hecimovich seems to feel entitled to a coaching position. As a parent of a child participating in this year's program, my understanding is that there was an abundance of volunteers to coach, with several parents who volunteered not getting coaching assignments. Given that Mr. Hecimovich has already had the opportunity to coach for many years, it only seems fair to let other parents have a chance.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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