Former Dana Hills High School football coach Brent Melbon -- fired after his alleged involvement in a bribery scheme -- is attempting to clear his name this week.
The school that has more than 3,000 students is considered one of the oldest high schools in South Orange County, having opened in 1973. The school's enrollment is drawn from the nearby communities of Laguna Niguel, Dana Point, Capistrano Beach, and San Juan Capistrano.
Melbon was one of three Capistrano Unified School District coaches fired after a private investigator hired by the district asserted they had accepted bribes from the now-defunct Lapes Athletic Team Sales in return for using the company as the school's sports equipment supplier. Throughout the week, Melbon is undergoing an administrative hearing at the Capo Unified School District in hope of exonerating himself and getting his job back.
The other two coaches fired in the scandal were Chi Chi Biehn of Capistrano Valley High and Eric Patton of San Clemente High School.
According to the district’s investigator, the coaches had personal slush fund accounts set up for them by Lapes. The district alleges Lapes would overbill the district for equipment and give the extra to coaches, or never even deliver the equipment and kick the money back to coaches.
Melbon is accused of taking $4,300 in such bribes from former owner William Lapes.
Melbon's attorney will argue against the district's in an administrative hearing before a judge and two credentialed teachers, as stipulated in the California Education Code, said presiding Administrative Law Judge Amy C. Yerkey.
The panelists weren't available as the hearing started Tuesday, but Yerkey considered motions from both sides. The professional competence hearing is expected to resume at the CUSD office Thursday, she said.
From the nature of the motions heard Tuesday, it appears Melbon's lawyer -- Carlos R. Perez of Reich, Adell & Cvitan -- will argue that Melbon was not properly informed of procedures for handling district, booster and student government funds, nor was he properly supervised. He said Melbon didn't actively conceal his mishandling of district funds.
"The district has not established there is any active concealment," Perez told Yerkey, which management could have corrected "simply by doing what they should have done to supervise the situation."
Other coaches -- including Patton -- have argued the bribery allegations, at worst, amount to sloppy accounting. All the money went back into their respective athletic programs, they have said.
But the districts lawyers -- Daniel Shinoff and Michelle Meek -- contended that a minimum expectation for any employee is that they would properly handle district funds, so management was justified in firing Melbon.
"To assume an employee is willfully shirking that responsibility to the district and the public -- it's really ridiculous that the district should assume staff is misusing funds," Meek said. "There was know reason the district could have known, would have known."
Meek and Shinoff made that argument in an attempt to shoot down Perez's motion that the panel not be allowed to consider accusations of wrongdoing that happened more than four years ago. Meek argued that was unfair because the district didn't find out about any wrongdoing -- which they assert happened off campus and off work hours -- until 2010.
Yerkey reserved judgment on that motion until she could inspect the records.
Yerkey also denied a motion by the district to remove from consideration the fact that the Orange County District Attorney's office had declined to bring criminal charges in the case. Shinoff said it would be confusing to the panelists, who don't have a background in law.
Administrative hearings such as Melbon's have a lesser burden of proof: panelists -- equivalent to jurors -- can decide in the district's favor if most of the evidence suggests wrongdoing by Melbon. If it were a criminal trial, the prosecutors would have to prove he were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The scandal came to light after Teresa Sando and her husband, Geoff Sando, bought Lapes Athletic Team Sales of Laguna Hills in 2008 as it was going under.
After the purchase, they discovered coaches from across Southern California had personal spending accounts with the retailer and then alerted the authorities and the media.