Garces High coaches take legal action over recorded meeting

Garces High coaches take legal action over recorded meeting
Garces Memorial High School head football coach Jim Maples comments on a legal claim at his attorney's office, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, in Bakersfield, Calif. The legal action against the Kern High School District, Kern County Superintendent of Schools, and the Central Section of the California Interscholastic Federation, stems from a secret summer audio recording. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Eight Garces Memorial High School football coaches will file a legal claim, complaining the secret taping of a planning meeting has hurt their reputations and also student athletes in their program.

The action goes back to a dinner meeting in July, where they say a cellphone recording was made and then given to high school district administrators.

"I, along with seven other Garces football coaches, have been forced to file this lawsuit to right a wrong," head football coach Jim Maples said, reading from a statement.

Attorney Joel Andreesen said the coaches and Maples' father will file a claim against the Kern High School District, Kern County Superintendent of Schools, and the Central Section of the California Interscholastic Federation.

Andreesen said the recording of the coaches' meeting was illegal, and it was then illegal for the school organizations to "disseminate" copies or transcripts of the recording.

The claim says the meeting in question was July 1. Maples, as head coach, had called a dinner session to plan for the upcoming season, the attorney said. That meeting was in a private room at Bill Lee's restaurant in downtown Bakersfield.

"When you're in a closed environment like that, you have an expectation of privacy," Andreesen said.

He said the meeting was attended by the eight coaches who are filing the claim, plus three or four others. They think one of those other individuals made the recording.

"We believe it was another person who formerly coached for Garces," Andreesen said. "And it was that individual that we believe recorded this."

According to the claim, in mid-July the Kern High School District received a copy of the recording of that meeting. It says on July 26 the High School District contacted Garces administrators, had a meeting, and gave Garces a "copy of the transcript of the recording, but not a copy of the recording itself."

The claim says on July 28, Garces told Maples that the coaches' meeting had been recorded, and they were putting him on administrative leave. The next day, the High School District reportedly mailed a report and transcript of the recording to the Diocese of Fresno. It says the High School District also mailed a report and transcript to the CIF.

Garces High falls under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Diocese in Fresno, and the claim says Maples went there July 31 for a meeting, and that's the first time the coach heard the tape of the dinner meeting. The claim says diocese officials listened to the tape several times.

"After listening to the tape, reviewing the tape, there was nothing on the tape of any importance," Andreesen said. "So the outcome from the Diocese perspective with Coach Maples is he didn't do anything wrong."

The attorney said on Aug. 6, Maples was told the administrative leave would be lifted.

But, the coach and attorney said the damage continued, and argue the school administrators who got the tape should not have passed it along to anyone. They also lay blame on CIF commissioner James Crichlow.

"James Crichlow has made public comments about the investigation to the media, stating or insinuating that Garces coaches, including (those in the legal claim) engaged in misconduct, included but not limited to improper recruiting activity," the claim reads.

Eyewitness News called the CIF commissioner, and did not hear back. We also called the Kern High School District, and a spokesman said they have not seen the claim and can not comment. A spokesman with the Superintendent of Schools office said they hadn't seen the claim, and don't know why they would be included in the legal action.

The claim also alleges that students are being affected by the incident.

"Additionally, James Crichlow has caused athletes seeking to transfer to Garces to be subjected to longer eligibility waiting periods than athletes seeking to transfer to other, similarly situated schools," the claim says.

Eyewitness News also called Garces High, and president John Fanucchi said the issue is a personnel matter, and they can not comment on it.

The coaches say the meeting was taped illegally. Asked if any criminal charges could be filed, the attorney said Coach Maples has reported the incident to Bakersfield Police. Sgt. Joe Grubbs tells Eyewitness News the department did get a report on this, and investigated. He said that has been sent to the district attorney's office. Grubbs said a suspect is named in the report, but that can't be released at this point.

The coaches' attorney said the claim will be filed, and the school organizations can then decide if they'll accept or reject it. If it's not accepted, the next step would be to file a lawsuit. Andreesen said they hope the legal action helps them get more answers, and clears the coaches' names.

"Their reputation in the community has been tarnished," Andreesen said. "Unfortunately, your reputation is all you have, and once it's tarnished it's tough to get it back to where it should be."

That's also the bottom line for Maples.

"They continued to use this illegal recording in an effort to tarnish our reputations," he said. "Because they chose to ignore our  requests, that left us no choice but to bring this lawsuit and to hold them accountable for their bad choices and actions."