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By Autumn Parry / The Californian
BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Eight Garces football coaches, including head coach Jim Maples, are pursuing legal action against the Kern High School District, the Kern County Superintendent of Schools and the CIF Central Section.
The coaches, who are represented by local attorney Daniel Rodriguez, have filed a claim Wednesday alleging that those entities used and spread information from a private conversation that they illegally recorded.
The recording was allegedly the basis of a Catholic Diocese of Fresno investigation into possible recruiting violations, which in turn led to Maples being place on administrative leave this past summer.
"I along with seven other Garces football coaches have been forced to file this lawsuit to right a wrong," Maples said in a prepared statement.
Outside of his statement, Maples deferred all comment to Rodriguez.
The claim is a necessary step to pursue legal action against public entities and will lead to a lawsuit if the KHSD, Central Section and Superintendent of Schools all deny the allegations in the claim, which Rodriguez said was likely.
"This is just a precursor," Rodriguez said.
The organizations listed in the claim have 45 days to respond, at which time a lawsuit could begin. Spokesmen for the Kern High School District, Kern County Superintendent of Schools and Central Section all said they could not comment because they had not yet seen the claim as of Wednesday evening.
According to the claim, the conversation in question took place in early July at Bill Lee's Restaurant on 18th Street in Bakersfield. The Garces coaches were talking in a private room with a door that slides shut, and they discussed "the upcoming football season, incoming freshmen football players at Garces and a non-profit football booster club that was being formed at Garces."
Also present was John Weber, an apparent confidant of the coaches. Unbeknownst to the coaches, Weber recorded the meeting without consent, the claim alleges -- by California law, any recording of a conversation must be done with all parties' consent.
(Weber is a former Battalion Chief with the Bakersfield Fire Department who was listed as a main instigator in a lawsuit the city lost in 2009 when another fire department employee sued for harrassment.)
Later in July, according to the claim, Weber distributed the recording to the Kern High School District. The district gave a transcript of the recording to Garces, which in turn had its Diocese investigate, resulting in Maples being put on leave.
Rodriguez says the recording contains nothing that would insinuate Maples or any Garces coaches in any illegal recruiting practices.
"There is nothing there other than some colorful language," Rodriguez said. "There was nothing illegal, nothing bad."
Maples was reinstated after eight days of leave and coached Garces to a 10-3 season and a third straight appearance in the section's Division II championship game, which they lost 28-14 at Visalia-El Diamante.
According to the claim, the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, Kern County Board of Education and Central Section commissioner Jim Crichlow also all received the recording and passed it on to third parties, even though Maples' legal representation had warned them that the content was illegally obatined. The dissemination of an illegal recording also is against the law.
The Diocese released a statement in October saying it had examined Garces' communication with public schools and was working on a new set of guidelines for its coaches to follow in regards to recruiting.
The Central Section launched its own investigation of Garces' football program. Crichlow said Wednesday that investigation was "dormant" -- waiting to see what actions the Diocese took.
Meanwhile, Maples and company have taken their own action.
"(They) ignored us and proceeded to disseminate and use this illegal recording," Maples said in his statement. "And, to make things worse, they continued to use this illegal recording in an effort to tarnish our reputations.
"What they did was, and is, wrong. Because they chose to ignore our requests, they left us no choice but to bring this lawsuit to hold them accountable for their bad choices and actions."
The claimants are asking for damages in excess of $10,000 because of emotional distress, harm to reputation and invasion of privacy. They did not list a specific amount in the claim; Rodriguez said they would like that decision to be left to a jury.
"Here's the way I look at it," Rodriguez said. "We Americans value our privacy because what we say and do in private shouldn't be anyone else's business, and the law recognizes that so much so that it's a crime to violate privacy. They didn't follow the rules. Should we give them a pass, or should we make them face punishment?"