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Court Awards Cleve Pell and Susanna Contreras-Smith Over $5 Million in Attorney’s Fees, Total is Over $9 Million for Lawsuit



A Los Angeles Superior court judge has awarded former Montebello Unified School District CBO Cleve Pell and former MUSD Superintendent Susanna Contreras-Smith over $5 million in attorney’s fees related to their retaliation lawsuit filed against MUSD.

The hearing and judgement came seven months after the two won their initial 2016 lawsuit; the jury awarded Contreras $2.7 million and Pell $500,000.

At the time, the jury also found malice by MUSD Board members Ben Cardenas and Lani Cupchoy.

The two filed the lawsuit alleging they were whistleblowers who lost their jobs for coming forward about  misconduct by the Board of Education and Chief Business Officer Ruben J. Rojas.

Former Board member Hector Chacon, who now works  for 32nd District State Senator Bob Archuleta (D-Norwalk), was the only member not included in the lawsuit.

As a result of the loss, the MUSD must now also pay MUSD attorneys Daniel and William Shinoff fees that could run into the millions.

All tolled, damages and fees for the lawsuit are over $9 million and that is not counting the Shinoff fees.

Cleve Pell told HMG-LCCN, “The Court’s award of attorneys’ fees this morning not only recognized the “excellent results” obtained by Plaintiffs in this litigation (a $3.2 million verdict on all five causes of action), but also specifically noted that Defendants have no place to complain about the attorneys’ fees award when they were the ones driving the fees up in this matter.  The Court specifically stated in its ruling that “a party cannot litigate tenaciously and then be heard to complain about the time necessarily spent by the plaintiff in response.”   In fact, Defendants’ counsel refused to provide the Court their own record of hours billed to the District in this litigation so that the Court could compare their bills with Plaintiffs bills, because they didn’t want to disclose how much time and money — our children’s money — that they have wasted to lose a clear-cut case of whistleblower retaliation.  It is unfortunate that this was the way Defendants chose to behave in this litigation, but this is the bed they made — and they must now lie in it.”