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Highly publicized San Francisco school board recall petition theft lawsuit ends with an unusual settlement

The San Francisco School Board recall petition theft lawsuit between Jason Kruta, left, and Man Kit Lam, right, was settled for $1 and public apologies in local newspaper. | Jenny Shao; Han Li/The Standard

A high-profile petition theft case stemming from the early days of San Francisco’s school board recall has come to an end—with an unusual resolution.

Caught on camera, an episode involving fictitious names and a stolen recall petition sparked a wave of media coverage in both English and Chinese-language media, and eventually evolved into criminal and civil lawsuits. Footage showed public school parent and recall campaign activist Man Kit Lam confronting Jason Kruta, who was accused of stealing the petition and signing fake names on it.

The incident occurred on May 30, 2021, when Lam was gathering signatures for a recall campaign against school board members Alison Collins, Gabriela López and Faauuga Moliga. The video captured Kruta saying, "You caught me. You caught me," and pulling a handful of signed recall petitions from his back pocket.

Kruta was criminally charged after his arrest. Initially a local matter, the case was transferred to the state Attorney General’s Office because of Kruta’s political allyship with then-San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who was facing two separate recall attempts at the time.

Attorney General’s Office told The Standard that Kruta was charged with a single misdemeanor count of stealing a petition. He had completed a diversion program, which is a 12-hour anger management and impulse control class along with 25 hours of community service, and his case was dismissed on Dec. 9, 2022.

Kruta was also fired by his employer after the confrontation video went viral.

Lam later filed a civil lawsuit against Kruta in April 2022, alleging Kruta's behavior violated his rights and caused emotional damage. The case now settled for $1 plus a public apology to run in the form of an ad in three local newspapers: the San Francisco Chronicle, the LGBTQ-serving Bay Area Reporter and the Chinese-language Wind Newspaper.

“This lawsuit was never about money but uncovering the truth of whether there was a collaboration between Kruta and others to subvert the democratic process,” Lam said in a statement. “When I experienced and witnessed anti-democratic behavior and subsequently had my constitutional rights violated, I knew I must stand up for my rights and seek justice.”  

He thanked Kruta for his public apology, acknowledging the case has led to harassment against him, and hopes the settlement will resolve any lingering controversy.

Lam, a Chinese American immigrant who used to work in the San Francisco Unified School District, was a passionate opponent of the three school board members, who were recalled in February 2022. Lam now works for Supervisor Joel Engardio, who represents the Sunset District.

Clifford Hirsch, Kruta’s defense attorney, said that the case has been “amicably resolved” and noted everyone is ready to move forward.