District wastes $369,000 fighting
Child Abuse disclosure
East Bay Times, California – Let the case of Bay Area News Group vs. Mt. Diablo Unified School District serve as a reminder to all government officials that compliance with the state Public Records Act is not optional.
They have a responsibility to provide public documents, and there are consequences if they don’t. If officials don’t understand the importance of transparency, they should quit.
At issue in the Mt. Diablo case was reporter Matthias Gafni’s request in 2013 for a 2006 investigation report pertaining to teacher Joseph Martin.
The report raised the issue of child abuse, but police were never notified. Martin remained in the classroom another seven years after the investigation, before he was arrested and later convicted of molesting students.
For 2 1/2 years, the district fought release of the document. Finally, in January, a judge ordered it made public, and the district was threatened with a contempt motion if it didn’t comply.
After losing the litigation, the district this month had to send our lawyer, Duffy Carolan, a $225,000 check to cover our legal expenses. In addition, the district spent $134,000 for its attorney, Kevin Gilbert.
Mt. Diablo school Trustees Linda Mayo, Cheryl Hansen, Brian Lawrence, Barbara Oaks and Debra Mason owe taxpayers, parents, teachers, students and voters an explanation of why they wasted $369,000 of public money in a futile attempt to keep the report hidden. That money could have funded four classroom teachers for a year.
For his part, Gilbert managed to supplement his billable hours, first at the Meyers Nave law firm and later at Lozano Smith. He, too, owes an explanation of why he pursued such a misguided and costly legal strategy.
He will undoubtedly try to hide behind attorney-client privilege to avoid explaining the logic. But trustees can, and should, waive that privilege.
The public is entitled to see reports that find employee wrongdoing.
In the 2006 findings, investigator Mark S. Williams, an attorney hired by the district, warned that “this report would not be honest and its conclusions not fully supported if I did not report that the circumstances surrounding these allegations did not at least suggest the subject matter of potential child abuse.”
The district’s leading argument for secrecy was that the report was legal advice protected by attorney-client privilege. But that privilege doesn’t apply if Williams was acting as an investigator, which he was, and any privilege would be waived if the district shared the report with others, which it did.
Then, there’s the big question of why, after the investigator warned of potential child abuse, no one called police as the law requires. For that, we still haven’t received a good answer.