Well, at long last, here it is – the much-discussed document has just been released:
Judge: CSU Violated State Law in Palin Case. University violated the California Public Records Act, Must Pay CalAware Attorney Fees
SACRAMENTO – Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne has ruled that California State University Stanislaus violated the California Public Records Act when they refused to disclose the contract that brought Sarah Palin to the campus in June. The judge ordered CSU Stanislaus to release the speaking contract and also awarded payment of attorney fees to the prevailing party – the non-partisan, non-profit, open government organization Californians Aware (CalAware).
Despite being fully staffed by taxpayer-funded employees, the foundation and the university refused to disclose her compensation for the gala, which was not open to students but only well-heeled donors.
After Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) and CalAware were denied a public records request for the Palin contract and any correspondence regarding the visit, emails by administrators were uncovered and students found pages 4 through 9 of the Palin contract in the administration’s Dumpster. The incomplete contract showed Palin would receive a hotel suite, first class airfare or a private Lear jet, pre-screened questions, and “bendable straws.” It has since been reported that Palin received $75,000 plus expenses to speak.
“This is a great day for transparency and government accountability,” said Yee. “However, it is also a sad day when a public institution so grossly violates state law and when their legal counsel is ignorant of the public records statute. It is even worse, that university administrators attempted to blame students for their own negligence and misconduct.”
Judge Beauchesne issued the declaratory judgment sought by CalAware and concluded:
· “the University failed to produce any public records called for by (CalAware’s) request until after the initiation and service of the instant lawsuit, which records established that the University did possess public records responsive to the request as of . . . April 6 . . .
· “the University’s failures to follow the California Public Records Act, and to produce records when and as requested, whether deliberate, negligent or inadvertent, constitute violations of its obligations under the California Public Records Act, which contains no requirement that bad faith or a similar mens rea be proven in order to establish an actionable violation. . .
· “the reasonable inference from the evidence produced is that the University, in its official capacity, has ‘used’ the contract between the Washington Speaker’s Bureau (with Ms. Palin and the CSU Foundation) in the conduct of the public’s business; therefore, said contract is also a public record and should have been produced to Petitioner.”
According to CalAware, the judge also issued a writ of mandate requiring the University to release the contract as well as any so far unreleased “documentation related to the use of University property, personnel, facilities or services provided in connection with the Gala for which the University sought or will seek reimbursement from the Foundation.”
Finally, the judge ordered the university to pay CalAware the costs and attorney’s fees it incurred in bringing the lawsuit.
CalAware’s attorneys Kelly Aviles, Dennis Winston, and Terry Francke, issued the following joint statement:
“We are very pleased with the decision. Judge Beauchesne, who had taken the matter under submission on August 2nd, carefully considered the arguments of all the parties. Ultimately, he correctly sided with the public’s right to be informed about how its money is being spent. This ruling upholds California citizens’ right to maintain oversight and control of their government. Public oversight is the only way that citizens are assured that public money is handled in an appropriate matter. We are hopeful that this will prompt CSU to reevaluate the way in which it handles public records requests in the future.”
The judge correctly ruled that the Foundation itself is not currently subject to the California Public Records Act. SB 330 authored by Senator Yee, which would subject campus auxiliary organizations and foundations to the public records law, is currently pending before the Governor.
“It is time for CSU to embrace commonsense transparency policies instead of spending taxpayer dollars fighting to keep the public in the dark,” said Yee.