Two Oakdale Irrigation District directors that had been barred from discussing certain closed-door lawsuit discussions, due to a temporary order filed by the district, have been exonerated for their actions and allowed back into meetings with a Stanislaus Superior Court judge tossing out the order on Thursday, Oct. 13.
The matter dates back to an April litigation filed by Robert Frobose and Louis Brichetto, acting as Oakdale Groundwater Alliance, regarding water sales against OID. In May, Directors Gail Altieri and Linda Santos, who cast March 15 dissenting votes for the sale, provided the plaintiffs’ attorney with declarations containing emails they had with OID General Manager Steve Knell.
On June 28, OID filed suit against the two women alleging violation of closed session items and that Santos “is motivated in part by her personal and business relationship with Petitioner Frobose and Brichetto.”
Santos and Frobose have a business relationship where Santos receives compensation regarding Frobose leasing Santos owned land.
As a result of the June motion, Judge Roger Beauchesne issued a restraining order on July 1 against Santos and Altieri keeping them out of closed door meetings surrounding the lawsuit.
In the Oct. 13 ruling, Judge John Freeland reversed Beauchesne’s order and stated “that sufficient grounds do not exist to impose the broad preliminary injunction sought by Plaintiff (OID) here.”
The judge wrote in his ruling that OID’s motion amounted to placing handcuffs on Santos and Altieri’s ability to effectively operate as duly elected members of the OID Board of Directors.
“In the Court’s opinion there is serious doubt whether any ‘confidential information’ discussed in closed session was divulged by either of the Defendants,” Judge Freeland wrote in the ruling. “Even if Plaintiff had made sufficient showing that this occurred, the ‘confidential information’ allegedly disclosed has nothing whatsoever to do with the case brought against Plaintiff by Oakdale Groundwater Alliance and, arguably, either isn’t ‘confidential’ at all or could never be perceived as ‘confidential’ by persons not present.”
With regard to Santos’ relationship and the perceived conflict of interest with Frobose, Freeland ruled that OID’s argument was “utterly unpersuasive.”
“Director Santos and I are ecstatic that the truth prevailed as we knew it would,” Altieri said on Oct. 13, the day of the ruling, “and a huge thank you to all who believed in us.”
“It has always been my position that the public is entitled to the truth,” Santos told The Leader on Friday. “OID’s own records reflect that I stated the truth.”
Santos added, “Let's put this behind us and move on.”
OID GM Steve Knell said he was totally perplexed by the court’s latest ruling.
“Here you have two directors who filed court declarations against OID, the agency they were elected to serve, and will testify against OID during the upcoming (Brichetto-Frobose) trial,” Knell said. “The court’s decision is saying these two directors should be allowed back into OID closed session so they can hear the very strategy discussions of OID’s attorneys about how OID is going to discredit their testimony and prepare OID’s defenses in the Brichetto-Frobose suit.”
Knell added that OID has alleged Santos and Altieri have violated closed session confidentiality twice already, and believed for OID to assume future closed session confidentiality is protected by these directors carried no certainty.
“It’s beyond reason as to how the court expects a public agency to adequately defend itself in a suit when the very people who support and directly communicate with the other side get to listen to how the agency prepares its case against them?” Knell stated.
On Aug. 17 Santos was served with recall papers that included an accusation of the first-term director “aiding and abetting OID’s opponents in a lawsuit.” The group has until Nov. 10 to gather 415 signatures of registered voters in Santos’ voting district to initiate a recall ballot.
It is unknown how the Oct. 13 ruling will affect that effort.