Good day, friends, and welcome to the backstory of a post I have not written yet. You see, on Thursday1 I rode various buses and trains up to 888 S. Figueroa Street to visit the office of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control for the limited purpose of inspecting some records. Here before you is the story of the inspection, and although I will certainly be writing the story told by the records themselves, today is not the day for that. You can look at them here on Archive.Org, though, and they are certainly worth your time.
It all started on October 26 when I emailed PublicRecords@abc.ca.gov with my request. On November 14, an amazingly prompt 18 days later, Stephanie Eastwood (firstname.lastname@example.org), who is some kind of ABC CPRA specialist, told me that there were 152 pages of responsive records and that I had to go to an ABC office to look at them. It may be worth looking at her email, if only to note that she doesn’t sign her last name, a fact which will become interesting later in the story.
I told her that LA Metro was closest and that I would need to use my scanner. I also pointed out that they could just give me exported electronic copies for free, which is required by the CPRA.2
Then she ignored me for a couple weeks3 and, when she responded, her email contained the remarkable claim that ABC’s email system was so old that it “does not use electronic files.” She also told me that according to most high and mighty special agent in charge Gerry Sanchez, there was no “secure area” at LA Metro to use my scanner but that if I went to the Long Beach office I could scan.
However, Long Beach is too far from me, both geographically and emotionally, so I told her LA Metro was best and I would just take pix with my phone. Then she said OK, I could come in on December 4.4 I told her that I couldn’t, that I had to work, and that I would be in on December 6 at 10 a.m. and could she confirm? Note that the CPRA explicitly states that records must be available during office hours for inspection.5
After more nudging, Stephanie Eastwood finally got back to me on December 4, informing me that I couldn’t come in on December 6 because ABC-agent-to-the-stars in charge Gerry Sanchez wasn’t available and I would have to come in on December 13 instead.6 I told her7 that I had to work on the 13th. I also pointed out, again, that the law required records to be available during office hours, not at the random convenience of SSAC Gerry Sanchez, superstar.8 It only took her five hours to concede to that one,9 which is how I found myself at the ABC LA Metro office at 10 a.m. on Thursday. And here my troubles began.
OK, in I go. A lady asked what I wanted and I told her I had an appointment to look at some records. Eventually special agent in charge Maggie Phillips came out with the 152 pages and sat me down at the desk you see pictured above. Then she asked for my ID. I asked if it were required to show ID to see records.10 She asked for my name. I told her “Mike.”11 She asked my last name. I wouldn’t tell her. She told me that she just wanted to be sure she was showing them to the right person. I said that since every person was allowed to look at them there was no wrong person to show them to.12
Then along came her boss, stupendously superlative special agent in charge Gerry Sanchez, the very one who told Stephanie Eastwood that there was no room for me to use a scanner in his office. And he was wearing a gun. Even though he was in the office.13 Which is creepy. And scary. And he wanted to see my ID too. And I wouldn’t show it. And he wanted to know my last name. And I wouldn’t tell it. And he told me that he would make an exception this one time but if I wanted to inspect records in the future I would have to show ID. And I said we would see.
And he was all like what did you say? And I said I said we’ll see. And he said that I wasn’t being respectful.14 And he said that if I was going to read his emails he was going to see my ID and know my name. And then he scooped up my emails, which I’d been waiting to see since October 24, and marched off into the back with them, special agent second-in-command Maggie Phillips following along. They were back there for 12 minutes, and I guess a lawyer talked him down from the ledge cause when they returned they let me look at the damn records finally without showing my ID or telling my last name.
It’s probably worth mentioning, by the way, why this is an important battle to fight. It’s clear that when armed officers demand to see ID when they have no legal right to see it they’re likely to be trying to intimidate. In this particular case, what with Gerry Sanchez’s obsession with respect and with the fact that I was there to read his emails, intent to intimidate is even more clear.
In fact, it’s even more clear given that they already knew my last name, cause the very first lady I talked to asked me if that’s who I was. So they weren’t trying to learn it, they were just trying to make me say it. And it’s essential not to let the authorities intimidate records requesters. I’ll spare you the preservation-of-our-precious-democracy anthems cause I’m sure you’re as sick of them as I am, but it don’t mean they aren’t true.
Anyway, finally special agent Maggie Phillips came back with the 152 pages. Gerry didn’t show up again so I guess he was in the back licking his wounds, or his gun, or whatever kind of licking might make him feel good.15 Then I started looking at the records. Astoundingly, they were out of date order. Each email, even the multipage ones, had its pages in order, but one from October 2018 might be followed by one from May 2015 by one from July 2017 and so on.
I spent about 15 minutes trying to put them in order, since chronology is essential for understanding. But it turned out to be too hard. Also a bunch of them were printed in really really really skinny columns due to the formatting imposed on the emails by the Outlook client that was used to read and print them out on paper before they got to me. So I emailed the ABC public records contact email address via which I’d previously talked to Stephanie Eastwood to ask about why this was.
This time, though, I got another records specialist, this one putatively known as Constance Rubio. I told her my complaint and she wrote back right away, telling me that if I paid ABC for copies then the copies would come in chronological order. She didn’t pretend to be surprised that they were out of order, so this is as much as an admission that she and/or her co-conspirator Stephanie Eastwood purposely shuffled the records in order to hinder my access to them.
This is actually not a rare tactic. I’m told, e.g., that Buffalo Bill Cody, the world’s oldest field deputy, over at Los Angeles City Council District 1, is very fond of this tactic himself.16 What is rare is that Constance Rubio didn’t deny it. All she did was tell me that if I paid up instead of insisting on inspecting for free and making my own copies, then and only then would she supply the pages in order.
And that’s the story of some pretty aggressive CPRA responder pushback. None of the tactics in themselves are unusual in my experience, but it’s pretty rare to see them all bundled up into one 90 minute episode like this. Oh, and speaking of 90 minutes! I almost forgot to discuss the economics of the situation. See, it’s well-established that record inspection is free. It’s also well established that making copies of records is part of inspection. Also, agencies like to require observers to sit and watch inspectors inspect. Not sure why this is, probably it makes them feel tough somehow.
And we’ve already seen the warped economic incentives that this situation creates. E.g. with the Westwood Village BID, whose sartorially pedophilic executive director, Andrew Thomas, not only hovers over me while I photograph his emails, but he requires a security guard to sit there as well. Thus does it end up costing that BID $4.50 per page to supply me with emails that they will also sell me at $0.10 per page. Clearly if they just gave me the copies for free they’d save $4.40 per page. But they’ll never do this in a zillion years. Probably for the same reason we don’t have single payer health care in this country.
And the ABC is no better. They had special agent Maggie Phillips sitting there for 90 minutes watching me photograph 39 pages. In 2017 Maggie Phillips’s compensation was $152,645.91. This comes to $76.32 per hour if you assume two weeks of paid vacation. Thus did it cost the people of California $114.48 to allow me to photograph 39 pages that, according to the ABC, were worth $3.90 to them. That is $2.94 per page that the state paid. Again, they could have saved $110.58 by just giving them to me for free. But no. That would set a bad precedent. The bad precedent where the cops follow the law. How are they supposed to get their work done if they start down THAT road?
Image of super duper special agent in charge Gerry Sanchez is ©2018 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and at one time had something to do with this little friend over here. The line about twanging the magic twanger is, sadly, not the product of my own fertile yet apparently limited imagination. Rather, it is due to the justly celebrated John Sandford, although I think he was talking about sex more than guns. But as supercalifragilistic special agent in charge Gerry Sanchez makes abundantly, overflowingly clear, it’s a fine, fine line indeed, innit?
- December 6, 2018.
- At §6253.9(a).
- Totally typical among CPRA responders. They stop answering until one asks for a status request and then they answer right away. Obviously they’re betting that the request will just go away. And why wouldn’t they? There certainly aren’t consequences for such shenanigans.
- This is also a typical aggressive move on the part of CPRA responders. Even though the law explicitly states that no appointment is necessary to see records, they not only require appointments but they act as if they get to choose the appointment times without consulting the requester. Like e.g. can’t make it at 7 a.m. on December 4, our next appointment is on December 23 at 2 a.m. No? We don’t have more appointments until February.
- At §6253(a), which states: “Public records are open to inspection at all times during the office hours of the state or local agency and every person has a right to inspect any public record[.]” Note well that bit about every person, cause it’s going to come up again later.
- This is another typical kind of aggression practiced by CPRA responders. They pick some random person in the office and insist that that particular person must be present for inspections. Often that person mostly works from home in Kern County or whatever and only comes in one day in each odd numbered month.
- Truthfully. Don’t lie to these people even though they lie to you constantly. Assume that each case is going to end up in court and make sure that the record shows them looking like assholes and not you.
- I also mentioned that the CPRA allowed the ABC to make policies relating to its compliance with the CPRA, but that at §6253.4(b) it forbade these policies from limiting the time that records are available for inspection. Certainly requiring Gerry Sanchez to be present whenever records are inspected is such a limitation.
- I think by now I know the law well enough and am sufficiently unwilling to back down at all to make lawyers think a little before pushing me around with their crackpot interpretations of the law. It’s a tragedy that they will continue to push around requesters who haven’t yet mastered the omniscient arrogant tone whose subtext, that I know the law and I know how to use it, shouts the reluctant responder into submission. Obviously these CPRA-subject agencies ought to do what the law requires because, you know, the law requires it without needing to be put in fear of a lawsuit first. Fucking barbarians.
- As I said above, it’s not. The CPRA at §6253(a) says explicitly that “every person has a right to inspect any public record.” It’s not required to have ID to be a person so it’s not required to have ID to inspect records.
- Not really Mike, but my real-life actual first name.
- Here’s where it becomes interesting to recall that, throughout our correspondence, ABC CPRA agent Stephanie Eastwood never once told me her last name. Why is that, I wonder?
- Despite what you may have heard elsewhere I have no evidence that he had been using his weapon (that’s what cops call their guns; their weapons. I’m not sure why but I’m sure it’s creepy) as a masturbation aid. I also have no evidence that he had not. It looked clean, but it’s not always easy to tell.
- And that made me a little nervous cause in specialagentese that phrase means essentially “I could kill you right now and all these witnesses would lie and say that you attacked me first, friend.” What is up with cops and respect, anyway? Does he think it’s respectful to wear a gun and demand that I show him my ID when the legislature, who certainly is the boss of him no matter what kind of crappy grade he got in high school civics class, has decided that in fact I don’t have to? What a weirdo this guy is. Stay tuned because we’ll be learning far, far more about him.
- Spare me the joke about the dog.
- No doubt you’ll be hearing more about this in the future, as always.