Judge extends restraining order against Patterson councilwoman for two years

A restraining order that requires Patterson Councilwoman Sheree Lustgarten to stay away from a fellow council member was extended, though she can attend council meetings.

Stanislaus Superior Court Judge John Freeland granted a two-year extension on a restraining order that requires Patterson Councilwoman Sheree Lustgarten to stay away from Councilman Dennis McCord.

The court decision at a Tuesday morning hearing in Modesto requires Lustgarten to stay 100 yards away from McCord until Feb. 24, 2018. The exception is Patterson City Council meetings, where Lustgarten sits right next to McCord at the dais.

Lustgarten may attend council meetings, but Freeland suggested that the city change the seating arrangement. “I don’t understand why the city has them sitting next to (each other) at the dais,” he said. “It makes no sense.”

Freeland took no action on the city’s charge that Lustgarten committed perjury when she previously told the court she has no criminal record. A city search of Southern California court records found a misdemeanor conviction and infraction related to a domestic dispute, but Freeland never mentioned the convictions during Tuesday’s proceeding.

The judge approved a five-month restraining order in September, based on what Lustgarten said and did while clashing with city officials over an investigation into her conduct at Patterson’s senior center. After a July 10 closed council session on the investigation’s report, officials heard Lustgarten say that if McCord leaked the report, “he’s dead.”

Lustgarten also left angry and profane phone messages with city officials in July. The council majority urged her to resign and she was stripped of committee appointments.

In January, the city sought to extend the workplace restraining order after dredging up the court records in Southern California, where Lustgarten previously lived.

The City Council denied a request to cover Lustgarten’s legal fees, and last week the city submitted fresh charges claiming she tried to intimidate and harass McCord within weeks of the Sept. 24 order.

According to the brief filed last week, Lustgarten shuffled and flapped papers as she sat next to McCord at the Oct. 6 council meeting. McCord looked over and saw that Lustgarten was showing him court documents from a criminal case in Montana related to his father’s death, the brief says. McCord’s father was slain.

According to the city’s brief, Lustgarten obtained court documents concerning McCord’s mother, who had been convicted of conspiracy in his father’s death, and brought them to the council meeting to cause “emotional and psychological harm” to McCord.

The city also claimed that Lustgarten violated the restraining order when she parked her car less than 100 yards from McCord, who attended an Oct. 10 event in downtown Patterson where people who want to recall Lustgarten gathered signatures.

A sheriff’s deputy who responded asked Lustgarten three times to obey the restraining order before she left, the city claimed. McCord’s teenage sons also told their father that they saw the councilwoman parked at a street corner less than 100 yards from the family’s home in mid-October.

Lustgarten represented herself in court Tuesday, and she was given time to organize papers she planned to submit. Freeland said he could approve the extension without hashing over the latest evidence, as restraining orders usually are granted for three years.

When Lustgarten said a workplace restraining order hurts her ability to find a job, the judge cut her off. She was ordered to have no contact with McCord at his work and home or through the phone, email or text messages.

Lustgarten said she needs employment to support herself after her husband’s death by suicide in December. After Tuesday’s hearing, she denied showing the Montana court papers to McCord at the Oct. 6 council meeting.

City Attorney Tom Hallinan said he was pleased the order was extended. He said he will tell the council about Freeland’s concerns regarding council member seating.

Lustgarten, who was in court with a few supporters, said the city’s legal actions against her are politically motivated and retribution for her efforts to expose corruption and financial mismanagement at City Hall. Combined with the senior center investigation, she claimed, the city’s legal actions have cost taxpayers more than $100,000.

She said she plans to finish her term this year and is open to running for re-election in November. “They have given me a big platform by spending a lot of money on this,” Lustgarten said.

The city has suggested to the state attorney general that the convictions on Lustgarten’s record disqualify her from office. A 1998 battery on a spouse charge in San Bernardino County was reduced to a “fighting noise; offensive words” infraction, requiring her to a pay a $25 fine, and she has a misdemeanor conviction for passing a bad check in Riverside County.

Lustgarten said both cases were related to being a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of a previous husband 18 years ago. She brought photos of the physical abuse to Tuesday’s hearing.

“I found out about the bad check when I was in hiding, and I paid it,” she said. “They were trying to get me on a perjury charge for things that happened 18 years ago.”

They are so childish they cannot even sit next to each other in city meetings. SMH