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Harris v. Stampolis

California Court of Appeals, Sixth District

June 24, 2016

SUSAN E. HARRIS, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
CHRISTOPHER STAMPOLIS, Defendant and Appellant.

         Superior Court of Santa Clara County, No. 1-14-CH005881 Hon. Thomas E. Kuhnle, Judge

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         COUNSEL

         Eugene Whitlock for Plaintiff and Respondent.

         Tomas E. Margain for Defendant and Appellant.

         OPINION

         Premo, J.

         Respondent Susan E. Harris is the principal at Peterson Middle School (Peterson), which is part of the Santa Clara Unified School District. Appellant Christopher Stampolis, a board member of the school district, has a son who attends Peterson. In October 2014, Harris obtained a civil harassment restraining order (Code Civ. Proc., § 527.6)[1] against Stampolis after he became aggressive toward her when she confronted him about how he was regularly late to pick up his son after school. Stampolis appeals the restraining order, arguing that it is not supported by sufficient evidence. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         1. The Section 527.6 Petition

         Harris is the principal at Peterson, which is part of the Santa Clara Unified School District. Stampolis is a board member of the school district and has a son who attends Peterson.

         On September 24, 2014, Harris filed a petition under section 527.6 seeking a restraining order against Stampolis. Harris alleged that Stampolis had become belligerent and aggressive toward her after she attempted to speak to him about a school policy that required that all students be picked up no later than 20 minutes after school ended. In violation of this school policy, Stampolis had been regularly late to pick up his son. Harris supported her restraining order petition by attaching documents that detailed the interactions she had with Stampolis that made her fear for her safety.

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         2. The Contested Hearing

         The court held a contested hearing on the restraining order on October 14, 2014. During the hearing, multiple witnesses, including Harris and Stampolis, testified.

         a. Background Events

         Harris testified that she had a tense history with Stampolis. Previously, one of the teachers who taught Stampolis’s son had complained to her about Stampolis’s behavior. Responding to the teacher’s complaint, Harris had e-mailed Stampolis, informing him that the teacher had felt harassed by him. Stampolis became upset, interpreting Harris’s e-mail to mean that she was going to lodge a legal claim of harassment against him. Harris explained to Stampolis that she used the term “harassment” in her e-mail to describe how the teacher had said she felt after interacting with Stampolis. Despite this clarification, the matter was escalated to the district level and Harris was told that Stampolis had requested that she formally apologize to him. Harris said that she did not formally apologize to Stampolis and was unaware if the district had apologized to him on her behalf.

         Stanley Rose, the superintendent of the Santa Clara Unified School District, confirmed that Harris and Stampolis previously had a contentious e-mail exchange. Rose acknowledged that he sent Stampolis a letter apologizing on behalf of the district for Harris’s use of the term “harassment” in her e-mail.

         Stampolis acknowledged that he had previously exchanged e-mails with Harris. However, he believed the situation had been resolved after he received the apology letter from Rose.

         b. The August 27, 2014 Incident

         1. Harriss Testimony

         Stampolis had been regularly late to pick up his son after school when the school year started. This was in violation of a school policy that required that all students be picked up at least 20 minutes after school ended.

         On August 27, 2014, Stampolis came to Peterson to pick up his son. Seeing Stampolis enter the campus, Harris went to speak to him about the school policy. Before she approached Stampolis, Harris asked Andy Masur, the school’s vice principal, to accompany her. Stampolis was initially dismissive and preoccupied with his cell phone when Harris spoke to him. Later, he became aggressive and angry. Stampolis raised his voice and began yelling at

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Harris. He also put his fingers in Harris’s face and clasped his hands together in the shape of a gun, pointing his fingers toward her. Harris described Stampolis as standing right in front of her, so close that she could feel his breath on her face. Stampolis walked away from Harris and toward her several times. Harris raised her hands at one point because she thought that Stampolis was going to hit her. Stampolis told Harris that she was harassing him and that she needed to put any of her requests down in writing.

         Harris called the district office after Stampolis left. She documented the incident and filed a disruption report. Harris also called a police officer, Officer Fekete, to view a surveillance video that had captured the incident. After watching the video, Fekete told Harris that “this guy [Stampolis] is not safe.”

         Afterwards, Stampolis filed a harassment claim against Harris, which was later independently investigated and dismissed.

         ii. Masurs Testimony

         Masur confirmed that he was with Harris when she spoke to Stampolis on August 27, 2014. Initially, Harris spoke to Stampolis in a calm manner. However, Stampolis became angry and agitated. He raised his voice and made hand gestures, pointing his fingers and raising his fists. Masur was afraid that Stampolis would become physical with Harris.

         III. Officer Fekete’s Testimony

         Officer Fekete confirmed that he watched the surveillance video of the August 27, 2014 incident upon Harris’s request. Fekete observed that Stampolis appeared to be making gestures in the video, and was upset and aggressive. Based on the footage, he believed that Harris legitimately feared for her safety.

         iv. Stampolis’s Testimony

         Stampolis acknowledged that he spoke with Harris and Masur that day. Stampolis explained that he had previously spoken to the school librarian, and she had told him that it was perfectly fine for his son to stay after school and study at the library. That day, he was walking to the school library to pick up his son.

         Harris, accompanied by Masur, approached him as he walked onto the campus. Harris told him that she wanted to speak to him about his son’s safety. Stampolis thought that the subject of the conversation sounded

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serious; therefore, he believed that Harris should put whatever she was going to say to him down in writing. Stampolis began walking away from Harris, but Harris called out to him several times so he engaged with her several times. Stampolis denied making hand gestures toward Harris that resembled pointing a gun. According to Stampolis, he only gestured toward Harris in a manner that was meant to indicate that Harris should put everything down in writing.

         v. Surveillance Video

         A surveillance video of the incident was introduced into evidence. Due to the angle of the camera, the video was unable to capture everything that transpired. Only Stampolis is shown; Harris and Masur are off-screen. Stampolis is seen pacing back and forth, gesturing with his hands several times. On video, it appears that Stampolis clasped his hands together, with one hand almost in a fist and the other hand outstretched with his fingers pointing.

         c. The August 28, 2014 Incident

         i. Harriss Testimony

         On August 28, 2014, Harris showed Officer Fekete video footage of the incident from the previous day. Fekete had just finished reviewing the video when Stampolis came to the school to pick up his son. Fekete went outside to speak to Stampolis about the school policy regarding student pickups. At first, Stampolis listened to Fekete. Shortly after, Stampolis told Fekete that he was not going to listen anymore and entered the school office. Harris followed Stampolis and Fekete into the school office, where they continued their discussion. Eventually, Harris told Stampolis that she was not going to give him a visitor’s pass to enter the campus. During their exchange, Stampolis referred to Harris by her first name. Harris requested that Stampolis refer to her as “Mrs. Harris, ” because they were in a professional setting. Stampolis refused and at one point Harris thought that Stampolis was going to physically come after her. Harris feared for her safety.

         ii. Officer Fekete’s Testimony

         Officer Fekete confirmed that he met Stampolis outside of the school. He spoke to Stampolis about the school policy regarding student pickups, but he did not believe that Stampolis respected his authority as a police officer. Fekete accompanied Stampolis to the school office, where Harris was inside. Fekete observed that Stampolis was constantly looking at Harris during their conversation. He made several ...


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