Appeal court halts lawsuit against Encinal PTO volunteers
A lawsuit filed by a former Encinal School basketball coach against the elementary school's Parent Teacher Organization and three of its officers for kicking him off the volunteer coaching squad will be dismissed following a Feb. 9 ruling by the California Court of Appeal.
Parent Lawrence Hecimovich, an attorney, filed the lawsuit in 2010 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. He had been coaching his son's team.
Attorney Robert Muhlbach, who represented the three PTO officers — parents Kelly Perri, Julie Roth, and Leslie Burke — said the state court granted his appeal of an earlier San Mateo County Superior Court decision to allow the lawsuit to proceed. He filed the appeal in January 2011.
Mr. Muhlbach had argued that the lawsuit violated California's "anti-SLAPP" law, which prohibits lawsuits brought primarily for the purpose of intimidating others into making concessions rather than face a costly court fight.
The court of appeal directed the trial court to grant the defendants' motion to strike, essentially halting the lawsuit. "The whole case will now go away," Mr. Muhlbach said.
Mr. Hecimovich could not be reached for comment, and it is unknown whether he will appeal the latest court decision. With his lawsuit, he was seeking reinstatement as a head coach in the Encinal basketball program, punitive damages in an unspecified amount, and attorney fees and costs associated with the suit. Among the causes of action listed in the lawsuit were libel and slander, negligence, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and fraud.
Under terms of the anti-SLAPP law, Mr. Hecimovich will be ordered to pay all attorney fees. Mr. Muhlbach said he hasn't added everything up yet, but "it will not be a small number ... We put in several hundred hours of work ... into this case."
Mr. Muhlbach said his clients "are glad it's over — it was a specter hanging over them."
"It was a shame it was filed in the first place, and we had to go through this rigmarole to get it resolved," he said.
In an earlier email 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."