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Susanna Contreras Smith and Cleve Pell Win Lawsuit Against Montebello Unified School District


Susanna Contreras Smith

By Brian Hews

Monday July 25, 2018, 11:02

Susanna Contreras Smith and Cleve Pell have won their respective lawsuits against MUSD.

The jury awarded Contreras $2.7 million; Pell $500,000.

The jury also found malice by Ben Cardenas and Lani Cupchoy which could result in large personal damages  against Cardenas and Cupchoy.

HMG-CN was told that the jury was given a question for punitive damages and that a hearing is underway.

In the 1986 case of Runyon, the judges concluded that  Government Code Section 818 prohibits a claim of punitive damages against a public entity, but not against individual public employees.

Board member Hector Chacon was the only member not included in the lawsuit.

As a result of the loss, the MUSD must not only pay their attorneys Daniel and William Shinoff fees that will run into the millions, but they are also on the hook to pay Contreras Smith and Pell’s  attorney’s fees.

In addition, the loss makes other lawsuits against MUSD more significant.

Sources are telling HMG-CN that some Board Members will call for the immediate removal/resignation of Cupchoy and Cardenas.

Contreras Smith and Pell  sued MUSD in 2016 alleging they were fired for exposing political corruption.

The two filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging they were whistleblowers who lost their jobs for coming forward about alleged misconduct by the Board of Education and Chief Business Officer Ruben J. Rojas.

HMG-CN was the first publication to expose Rojas’ corruption in 2016.

HMG-CN Exposé: Governor Brown I-Bank Appointee Ruben Rojas Defrauded State, Several Other Employers


HMG-CN EXCLUSIVE EXPOSÉ PART 3: MUSD’s Ruben Rojas Accused of Misconduct, Fired From Job in 2012


Later, HMG-CN exclusive reported that Rojas and Cardenas tried to cover-up the corruption at MUSD.

MUSD IN CRISIS: Board Member Ben Cardenas and CBO Ruben Rojas Lead Cover-Up of Financial Corruption at Montebello School District


HMG-CN will update when available.


MUSD issued a statement at 4:00 today:

“The Montebello Unified School District (MUSD) is disappointed in today’s jury verdict in the case of a lawsuit filed by two former superintendents against the District.  We are currently examining all our options which includes appealing the decision and the $1 in punitive damages imposed on both MUSD Board members Benjamin Cárdenas and Dr. Lani Cupchoy.

The California Supreme Court has previously ruled twice that elected officials cannot be sued in their individual capacity.  The District maintains that its decision to part ways with the former superintendents was lawful and performance based due to the fact that the District was on the verge of bankruptcy, its buildings were falling into disrepair and test scores were dropping.

Additionally, a recent audit of the District revealed that fraud, mismanagement and misappropriation of the district’s funds and assets may have occurred during the tenure of the former superintendents and that the past administration was negligent in its fiduciary duty to the District’s governing board, staff, students and parents; ignored established internal controls, and administrators did not hold themselves to a standard of conduct commensurate with their positions.  Due to the timing of the audit, the District was precluded from entering it into the case as additional evidence.”