The superintendent of an embattled East Side San Jose school district has filed a temporary restraining order against a trustee for verbally attacking her during a recent closed-session hearing. Alum Rock Union Elementary School District Superintendent Hilaria Bauer asked the court for the stay-away injunction because, according to court records, trustee Khanh Tran uttered a “credible threat of violence” against her.
Tran—who found out about the legal action when a process server showed up at his house at five-before-7 this morning—scoffs at Bauer’s characterization of his remarks.
“I said I would kick her ass,” he said matter-of-factly. “She’s under investigation, she’s committed crimes and she’s stealing from taxpayers. So yeah, I told her that at the first opportunity I would kick her ass right outside the district.”
After saying he’d kick her ass four to five times, according to folks who witnessed the Aug. 9 exchange, Tran then threatened to put Bauer in front of a firing squad. They say board president (and noted Luis Miguel fan) Esau Herrera reportedly did nothing to stop the browbeating and even chuckled at his colleague’s outburst.
Tran disputes that retelling of events, too.
“I don’t know about that,” he said in a phone call on his way to court, where he submitted a defiant response to Bauer’s petition, which also seeks protection for her husband and adult daughter. “I meant it in general. I said something more along the lines of, ‘Those who are stealing or are criminal should be in front of a firing squad.’ I mean, she’s a criminal, she’s stealing money—that’s crazy, you know what I’m saying? If you’re doing that, you should face a firing squad.”
Here’s the account Tran submitted to the court by way of explanation:
And here’s an email Bauer sent the board today to apprise them of the legal action:
Dear Board Members,
I'd like to share with you that I have requested and been granted a temporary restraining order against Trustee Tran. This restraining order directs Trustee Tran to neither contact me, or my family members or come within 100 yards of us. I made that difficult decision after very troubling and threatening remarks he made against me during our last board meeting during closed session, and considering the very troublesome violent acts against members of the Alum Rock community and my home.
This was a very deeply personal decision reached after consulting with my family. Although this doesn't involve the district, I want you to know about this. Depending on the final decision, there may be a need to accommodate Trustee Tran during board meetings. I will keep you informed about that. I have done this confidentially, and I am asking you to do the same; although this order is a matter of public record.
Hilaria Bauer, Ph.D.
Bauer has been on the receiving end of Tran’s onslaughts for the past couple years as the district went through one audit after another that uncovered alarming abuse, including conflicts of interest and potential fraud involving a contractor overseeing hundreds of millions of dollars in school bonds.
As one third of the board’s majority bloc (Herrera and Dolores Marquez being the other two), Tran has firmly defended the contractor, Del Terra Real Estate, despite a criminal probe and blamed Bauer for the district’s problems. Earlier this year, a civil grand jury report called on the so-called “Alum Rock Three” to step down, but the trio has stubbornly held its ground. Tran and Herrera have filed for re-election this fall, which prompted a slew of other candidates to give them a run for their money: Raymond Mueller, Bruce Huynh, Ernesto Bejarano, Linda Chavez, Brenda Zendejas.
Meanwhile, the superintendent, who’s widely respected by families in the district, has kept a low profile and focused on her day-to-day work despite chaos on the board and the resulting media firestorm. She did not return a request for comment.
The meeting where Tran apparently went ballistic took place after the five-member board unanimously voted to remove an item relating to Bauer’s discipline or dismissal from the closed-session agenda. Though the agenda item was nixed, Tran still spoke about Bauer’s performance, calling her insubordinate, among other things.
While Herrera allegedly laughed at Tran’s tirade, sources say trustees Andres Quintero and Karen Martinez tried to make him stop. Martinez reported the incident to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office and Bauer, on the advice of her attorney, immediately asked the court for protection.
Quintero, who declined to comment on the details of Tran’s closed-session conniption, said he’s appalled but, sadly, not at all surprised by his behavior.
“Unfortunately, given the pattern that’s we’ve seen in the past, I’m not surprised that it reached this level,” said the first-term trustee, who says he’s running for another term help pull the district out of this mess. “We’ve been in chaos for quite some time.”
Trustee candidate Mueller expressed similar dismay.
“There is a pattern of bullying and cronyism that permeates many school boards,” he said upon hearing the news. “The culture of violent communication and antisocial behavior is not acceptable in our boardroom any more than in our classrooms.”
The court order Tran got first thing this morning summons him to a Sept. 11 hearing—just two days before the board’s next monthly meeting. If the judge grants Bauer’s request to have Tran stay a certain number of yards away from her, that would force him to teleconference in for future meetings.
Tran called the restraining order, which prevents him from coming within 100 yards of Bauer and her family, a desperate gambit.
“She’s just messing around with the law,” he said. “She’s committing perjury. She’s using something that’s designed to protect people, to protect innocent people from violent offenders. This isn’t supposed to be a political tool. I mean, think about all the women who are beaten up, and the kids or families who are beaten up, and how she’s doing this just because she’s on the defensive and knows she’s wrong. She’s abusing the system.”
Though Tran said he’s ambivalent about the stay-away order and that he’d actually embrace it if the court made it mutual, he came off as a tad petulant.
“I honestly don’t give a shit,” he said. “I don’t want to see her either.”