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College district erred in barring construction firm, judge rules

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has ruled that the Los Angeles Community College District violated the constitutional rights of an Irvine construction firm that was accused of making fraudulent claims and barred from doing business with the system for five years.


In a ruling issued late Tuesday, Judge Jane L. Johnson determined that the evidence presented against FTR International did not support the charges and that the district’s Board of Trustees abused its discretion when FTR and its owner Nizar Katbi were barred temporarily from bidding or contracting for further work.


A special hearing committee of the board had accused FTR of submitting fraudulent claims on construction projects at Los Angeles Valley College and Los Angeles Mission College and of performing substandard work at Valley College’s Allied Health and Science Center. On Feb. 8, the full board voted to sever ties with FTR for five years.


But Johnson ruled that the board failed to properly consider FTR’s counter-claims, that the administrative hearing should have been held before a neutral arbitrator and that because the board had filed a lawsuit against FTR, there was an “unacceptable probability of actual bias” in the findings of the hearing committee.


Johnson ordered both parties to submit briefs on whether the charges should be reheard before a neutral party.

“We're disappointed with the ruling,” said Coby King, a district spokeman. “We disagree on both the substantive and procedural grounds on which the judge issued the decision. We will be considering our options in the coming days.”

Further, he added: “We want to reaffirm that we believe that taking the action we took is consistent with the effort to reform the bond program and to root out waste and mismanagement, so it’s doubly disappointing to see the court decide the way it did.”

Problems on these and numerous other construction projects were reported in a Times series last year that detailed waste, mismanagement, cost overruns and delays in the nine-campus district’s $5.7-billion campus rebuilding program.

 
“It’s been our position all along that these were trumped-up charges designed to deflect the public’s attention away from real management problems inside LACCD’s construction program,” Katbi said in a statement.


Since the trustees' action, FTR has dismantled most of its business and laid off 300 employees, said attorney Theresa Traber, who added that Katbi is seeking damages against the district and individual board members who voted for the debarrment.

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-- Carla Rivera

 
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