HESPERIA Lawyers in the public termination hearing of Hesperia Unified police chief Mike Graham sought to recuse four out of the five school board members who will serve as a jury in the case.


Graham, Superintendent Mark McKinney and school board president Chris Bentley publicly feuded throughout 2011. After months of fighting, Graham asked for his termination hearing to be held in public.


Graham's attorney, Russell Perry of Upland firm Lackie, Dammier & McGill, introduced as evidence a letter to the editor published in the Dec. 27 edition of the Hesperia Star, signed by board members Hardy Black and Anthony Riley.


In the letter, Black and Riley attacked Bentley for an alleged pattern of bullying, "Stalinist" behavior and punishing district employees who signed a February letter to school board complaining about Bentley's behavior.


"School Police Chief Mike Graham signed the letter," the letter reads in part. "Bentley immediately targeted him for retaliation. The chief was put on paid leave in August and terminated in October. He requested a public appeal to be heard by the HUSD Board. Those of you who know Mike Graham lament the injustice that is being done. He is now fighting for his professional life as he stands up to the intimidation and political agendas of Bentley, (Eric) Swanson and (Niccole) Childs."


While Perry wanted Bentley and fellow board member Swanson to recuse themselves and to call them as witnesses Paul Coble, an attorney with Fullerton firm Jones & Mayer who is representing the district's side in the termination hearing, seized on the letter as evidence that Black and Riley were themselves biased in the case and had to recuse themselves.


The board recessed to consider the issue for 31/2 hours before it was decided that all five members of the school board would be participating in the hearing, and none of them could be called as witnesses. Bentley, in his role as school board president ruled on the motions not related to him. School board vice-president Swanson decided on the motions related to Bentley.


This wasn't good enough for Coble, who indicated he might seek a writ of mandate from the Superior Court to force Black's and Riley's recusals and asked the hearing be recessed until he either decided to go forward with the Superior Court or until Wednesday, the second scheduled day of Graham's hearing.