Nick Ratekin used Microsoft Team software to appear in San Diego court  from Washington state.
Nick Ratekin used Microsoft Teams software to appear in San Diego court from Washington state. Photo by Ken Stone

Nick Ratekin coached Canyon Crest Academy to two CIF San Diego water polo titles and earned a master’s degree from National University with nearly straight A’s — the same grades he got at UC San Diego. He substitute-taught in San Diego Unified.

Nick Ratekin’s breach-of-contract complaint against University of San Diego (PDF)

Three years ago, his future in education appeared bright.

“I want to continue to build relationships with young people and inspire them to impact the world in a positive way!” Ratekin wrote.

But when Canyon Crest fired him as a full-time student teacher and the University of San Diego dropped him from its master’s program in education, his hopes took a dive.

Six days after the 2020 presidential election, he filed suit against the private Catholic school — claiming his ouster was for being pro-Donald Trump.

On Monday, a Superior Court judge raked Ratekin, 27, for issuing scores of subpoenas, including ones to the White House, Gov. Gavin Newsom, USD President James Harris and even the CEO of Dell Computer — Michael Dell.

“Based on what I’ve read, this is harassing,” Judge Eddie Sturgeon told Ratekin, who acted as his own attorney after his first one quit. Ratekin appeared remotely from Washington state, where he’s lived for nearly two years.

An angry Sturgeon granted USD’s motion to quash Ratekin’s subpoenas. He also issued a protective order to bar any further demands for information.

Ending a 20-minute hearing, he said he would sanction Ratekin more than $3,300 if he pursued any more documents or other materials.

USD’s answer to Ratekin complaint. (PDF)

“If there is to be further discovery, you gotta come into my courtroom and explain to me why it’s relevant,” Sturgeon said. “I’m stopping it — unless somebody comes in and says: ‘Judge, let me tell you why the governor of Washington has anything to do with this lawsuit. Why the Joe Biden Administration has anything to do with this lawsuit.'”

Last August, several conservative websites, including San Diego News Desk, hailed Ratekin as a hero for challenging “cancel culture.”

“The left is all too concerned with shaming and punishing those with differing views, instead of just engaging in simple conversation,” Natalia Perez wrote for News Desk, an arm of the local Republican Party.

“Nick is suing … with eight complaints, including breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and untrue and misleading advertising in violation of California business and professions code section 17500,” she added. “Nick is confident that, unlike our education system, the judicial system will maintain its integrity and not succumb to the ‘woke mob’ of modern liberalism.”

Three-Year Water Polo Star

How did it come to this — with a nonjury trial scheduled for Nov. 4, 2022?

Nicholas Christian Ratekin, who declined interview requests, was born Jan. 8, 1995, in Thousand Oaks to Tony Venegas — son of a Hispanic immigrant — and Jennifer Ratekin.

At Newbury Park High School, he was a three-time All-Marmonte League water polo star and competed for the Santa Barbara Water Polo Club and South Coast Water Polo Club.

Newbury Park High School newspaper quoting Ratekin as an Obama fan. See page 6 (PDF)

Before graduating in 2013, he told his campus newspaper that he was working with Obama for America and staffing phone banks.

“I really like Obama because of his health care policy to try to provide a health care opportunity to all Americans,” Ratekin was quoted as saying. “I also like the fact that he is not just depending on the 1% or the rich elite of the country; he is actually working for the middle class.”

A political science major at UC San Diego’s Warren College, he had aspirations of being a corporate lobbyist, his player bio said.

But Ratekin changed parties, registering as a Republican in March 2016 after voting in the June 2014 primary as a Democrat, county records show.

Before deleting his LinkedIn profile recently, Ratekin listed working for Democratic Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin in summer 2015.

“I was the first line of communication for the office,” he posted. “I handled complaints, policy proposals from constituents, and feedback generally. I worked hard to market the image of the Assemblymember as a positive community figure amongst varying opinions. Finally I was offered a job upon completion of internship as staff member.”

In April 2017, he submitted a 46-page senior honors thesis titled “The Comparative Returns of Earned Media in Garnering Electoral Support in the GOP Primary: Why an Election Cannot be Bought and Must be Earned.”

(Ratekin wrote: “It would appear that amidst a primary system that is becoming increasingly dominated by money and the donor class that Donald J. Trump was able to break this cycle by utilizing the national media to his advantage.”)

By 2018, he was a student-teacher at Chula Vista Learning Community Charter School.

Canyon Crest Principal Adds Ratekin

In October 2018, Canyon Crest Principal Brett Killeen — already familiar with Ratekin the coach — wrote USD to say he could join staff as an academic teacher.

“I would be very supportive of the idea,” Killeen said, according to email shared by the San Dieguito Union High School District via a public-records request.

“Should he be able to student-teach here, we can be sure to expose him to both at-risk subgroups and gifted students, in an effort to strengthen his capacity to meet the needs of all students.”

Two months later, Ratekin was hired.

But on Feb. 9, 2019, Canyon Crest’s Elise Ochenduszko wrote Gina Cherashore, Ratekin’s supervisor at USD, that Ratekin was being terminated “effective immediately.”

Among other things, Ochenduszko cited:

  • Lack of preparation, “unwillingness to collaborate and incorporate feedback into his planning and teaching.”
  • Repeatedly reporting late to work. “When asked about where he was, he lied to one cooperating teacher and said he was in the other cooperating teacher’s room; however he was not.”
  • And “blatant disregard” for disabled and English learner students and those with Individualized Educational Plans.

(“One IEP student asked for clarification about grading on an assignment,” the note said. “Nick rudely responded he was not willing to discuss it in class and the student could come find him later, even though several students wanted to know. IEP student stormed out of class, left campus without permission and purchased a soda at a restaurant across the street. Student returned to campus 15 minutes later with soda in hand. Nick was unaware of any of this until notified by cooperating teacher after class and still failed to respond/resolve with student.”)

Email detailing reasons for Nick Ratekin being let go. (PDF)

Five weeks later — March 19, 2019 — Professor Reyes Quezada, chair of USD’s Department of Learning and Teaching, wrote Principal Killeen, saying Ratekin had demanded supporting evidence that he mistreated a special education student.

Ratekin wrote: “To date, I have seen no evidence produced to substantiate (Ochenduszko’s) claim and maintain that it was highly defamatory and is one of the principle reasons listed for my dismissal.”

Ratekin also accused Ochenduszko of plagiarizing a budget project he had created for his 12th-grade economics class.

“My cooperating teacher utilized these plans, posted and took credit for these plans on social media (Twitter), and made the social media post days after my dismissal,” he wrote. “The post suggested that she was ‘saving the day’ with creatively designed lesson plans.”

But his November 2020 lawsuit raised the Trump-support issue for the first time.

Soon after Ratekin started in the classroom, the suit says, CCA teachers Ochenduszko and Zachary Brown “began harassing Plaintiff about his political activity and affiliation … even attempting to sabotage his career by not giving Plaintiff any assistance and badgering Plaintiff during an observation by Plaintiffs USD Student Teaching Supervisor, Gina Cherashore.”

Ratekin’s attorney was Dennis “D.N.” Brady of San Diego Education Law Group, who asked the court last October to be let out of the case, saying: “Mr. Ratekin has refused to follow our law firm’s repeated advice regarding a material matter” — a substitution of attorneys.

Blaming Politics for Dismissal

Ratekin’s suit gives few other details of the alleged harassment.

But San Diego News Desk, in a post August 30, 2021, reported that when program director Quezada discovered Ratekin was a Trump supporter, the USD professor became “enraged.”

“The professor inappropriately claimed that being a Trump supporter was ‘inappropriate and ‘deplorable,’ furtherly stating that ‘being a Trump supporter was unthinkable as a teacher in Chula Vista,’” the GOP website said.

Ratekin reportedly said the professor was conflicted over how a Trump supporter could also be a social justice advocate.

Judge Eddie Sturgeon lectured Nick Ratekin on discovery abuse. Photo by Ken Stone

“Nick, however, accurately rebutted that ‘politics does not have to be intertwined with social justice issues,’” News Desk said.

Ratekin’s legal issues extended to his roommates.

Before leaving for his grandfather’s home in Brush Prairie, WA, in summer 2020, Ratekin had run-ins with at least three Mira Mesa roommates.

At least two of them sought civil restraining orders in San Diego Superior Court.

“Living with Nicholas Ratekin has been an extremely terrifying situation for [the three roommates],” one wrote. “All year, he has been falsely accusing us of ridiculous actions and then retaliating in a dangerous and unpredictable matter.”

The legal action said Ratekin owned a shotgun that he stored in a “very unsafe manner.”

The roommates, he said, “have all heard him talk about shooting trespassers on his property.” Ratekin also was accused of changing locks and slashing tires. Police were contacted four times.

“Consequentially [sic] we have all scrambled to move out as quickly as possible,” the filing said.

One roommate accused Ratekin of stealing an Xbox, succulents and dining room set (including table and chairs) at a value of $1,000.

A roommate who worked in mental health told the court: “This man is dangerous and I do not feel that myself or my roommates should be forced to live in fear of him hurting us or our loved ones.”

Requests for temporary restraining orders were denied, but when time came to hear the cases in late September 2020, Judge Daniel Link dismissed them after nobody showed up.

Ratekin Loses Small-Claims Cases

Ratekin was a loser in small claims court, however. At least nine times he sued and won nothing in cases usually involving Pacific Polo Water Polo Club, where he once coached. (One person he sued didn’t want to be identified for fear of reincurring Ratekin’s wrath.)

After Ratekin moved to the family home in Brush Prairie — in the far southwest corner of Washington — he sought a teaching job in Battle Ground Public Schools.

He was hired as a special education teacher at $19.55 an hour, but again encountered criticism.

Julie Schile, a supervisor at Chief Umtuch Middle School, wrote him: “Just reminding you that your phone should not be out while you are working with students in class. The only time you should be on your phone is during your break and lunch.”

She said a student told her that he was having a hard time getting Ratekin’s attention for help.

“If you are not actively helping resource room students, you can walk around and help other students,” she said. “The other students LOVE to get the extra help!”

In mid-December 2021, he didn’t show up for work several days without notice.

“We tried calling you to check on you on Dec 15 & 16,” said Principal Tamarah Grigg. “The last day you informed Julie you would not be at work was Dec 14th.”

In addition: “I was not able to observe you working with students as you were on your phone when I walked into several classrooms. Attached is your 45-day evaluation and we will not be recommending you for permanent hire.”

Joanne Alnajjar Buser and Matthew Mushamel in court, representing University of San Diego. Photo by Ken Stone

Ratekin’s district email was deactivated Dec. 17, according to info obtained from the school district via a records request.

On Monday, USD lawyer Joanne Buser told Judge Sturgeon that Ratekin wasn’t working in good faith to honor the Civil Discovery Act.

“We just don’t go … emailing things to hundreds of people for no reason hundreds of times a day,” she said. “It’s an abuse of the litigation process.”

She defended her motion for a protective order because USD kept getting requests for production, numbering up to 214 demands.

“We responded to the first 117 of them and subsequently objected,” she said. “It’s just cumulative and duplicative.” (She said a 113th subpoena went out March 11.)

Buser told the nearly empty downtown court that her phone was ringing off the hook from attorneys all around town, and out of state, asking: “What’s the deal with this guy?”

Even so, USD issued a subpoena of its own — for “all medical, psychiatric and psychological records pertaining to examinations, treatments and consultations of the patient Nicolas (sic) Ratekin … for the period of January 1, 2016 to present.”

Michael Dell Files Quash Motion

Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell Computers, filed his own motion to quash — stop the subpoenas — “because he’s getting tired of it,” she said.

Buser said USD would soon file a summary judgment motion to ends the case in its tracks.

Ratekin was asked why he targeted Dell.

The dark-haired man on the courtroom screen said he had evidence that his computer was being “remotely intercepted” and that information was being “leaked to the defense.”

Who was doing the hacking? Ratekin didn’t want to “conjecture.”

He said he quit working with his original lawyers because “they failed to depose any key witnesses…. I thought it was unethical and unprofessional.”

He once coached girls and boys water polo at Scripps Ranch High School and gave his reason for issuing a subpoena to San Diego Unified: “We spent an entire instructional day watching the Joe Biden inauguration. … That’s not [under] California state standards for teaching or social science education… in my professional opinion, it has no educational value.”

He said San Diego schools didn’t watch the 2016 Donald Trump inauguration, so the “question was whether we have impartiality in education.”

He also sensed collusion between San Diego Unified and USD, and called his dismissal a “financial hit job.” He’s asking for unspecified damages that exceed $25,000.

Finally, Sturgeon addressed Ratekin: “You have certain rights. The court understands that. But you cannot abuse those rights. And I’m putting everybody on notice … when motions to quash come in — I don’t care who it is — sanctions are going to apply. Everybody hear that?”

He asked USD to prepare a formal order on sanctions.

“I’m going to reserve those, counsel,” he said. “We’re going to see how this case flows out.”