How Andrew Thomas And Carol Humiston Conspired To Spend At Least A Thousand Dollars Of Other People’s Money All To Teach Me A Lesson About The Costs Of Exercising My Rights Under The Public Records Act — How’s It Working Out For Them? — Probably Not So Well In The Long Run

NOTE: This post is turning out to be way longer than I thought, so I figured I’d better link to the actual public records it’s based on up here at the top. New for your perusal and edification are three contracts between the Westwood Village BID and various persons, including Exec Direc Andrew Lloyd Thomas and the BID security provider. Read ’em and weep, friends.

While you all have been enjoying my recent reporting on the Westwood Village BIDdies and their conspiracy with a bunch of UCLA students who feel like the boring homeowners on the Westwood Neighborhood Council don’t approve of enough liquor licenses and happy hours in the Village and whatnot, there has actually been a whole other story seething below the surface, some aspects of which I am writing today to tell you about!

You see, this isn’t just about me, the California Public Records Act, and Andrew Thomas, but also about Andrew Thomas’s lawyer, Carol Humiston, the ballistic barrister of Burbank.1 Carol Humiston,2 who lawyers for a lot of BIDs, has this CPRA system which she evidently believes is going to learn me not to bother her clients any more.3 Well, aside from the fact that no one’s managed to learn me anything since about 1974, her fanaticism ends up needlessly costing her clients a ton of money.4

But of course, it’s other people’s money that they’re spending, funded as they are by coercively collected assessments on property, which clearly makes it easier for them to spend, but which hardly seems ethical. One way in which she does this is to tell them a bunch of untenable crap about what they’re allowed to withhold5 so that they feel that they have the right to redact a bunch of really obviously not legally redactable information.

They do this by printing electronic documents on to pieces of paper, crossing things out with a marker, and then claiming that they have the right to charge me for copying that record.6 If, however, they had not printed and redacted, had the record stayed in its electronic format, I would have been able to get a copy at a marginal cost of zero.7 One effect of this tactic is to raise the cost of obtaining copies astronomically.

Like for instance, according to Andrew Thomas in response to my two requests to his infernal BID there were more than 500 sheets of printed-out emails that he had to redact. He proposed to charge me $0.10 per page to copy these. Thus, in order to obtain copies of all the records he deigned to produce, he wanted me to pay him more than $60.8 In one sense this isn’t that much money, but over the long run it’s a lot of money.9 I can’t actually afford to pay sixty dollars multiple times per year to every hapless joker who hires Carol Humiston to get copies of a bunch of emails, over 90% of which on average are pretty useless.10

Fortunately the framers of the CPRA seem to have anticipated this very tactic. A constitutional right such as the right to look at Andrew Thomas’s emails isn’t worth very much if he and Carol Humiston can cook up a pathetic little strategy for charging anyone $60 any time they want to exercise it. Thus the CPRA requires BIDs11 to make records available for inspection at no charge.12 And if Carol Humiston and her creepy little clients will insist on charging such outrageous fees for copies, it’s possible to go out to the BID and look over all the material for free, take pictures of some items and possibly pay for copies of individually selected items if it seems worth the money.

But it turns out that it’s not quite that easy. Carol Humiston has an answer for this as well. First of all, contrary to the explicit mandate of the law, she instructs her clients to require appointments for viewing records. Also, she instructs them to delay appointments for as long as possible. She instructs them that it’s OK to randomly cut appointments short without notice, even though this is explicitly a violation of the CPRA.13 She instructs them to pretend that they need security guards and other observers to protect the BID against the presence of members of the public. In short, contrary to the law, she instructs her clients to make the inspection process as difficult as possible.

And not just as difficult as possible for would-be record inspectors, but also for her clients themselves. The weirdest example I know is hinted at in this May 2017 email from batty little fusspot Blair Besten in which she explains that, in order for me to inspect records at the Historic Core BID, both her and her flipped out flunky Paola Flores and “a male” will have to be present.14 Well, Andrew Thomas is putatively “a male” himself,15 but despite that he didn’t feel the need to have any “females” present. He did insist on a security guard, though, or an ambassador, or whatever they’re calling these folks.

So imagine this, then. I went in as agreed at 9:30 a.m. He had all 500+ sheets laid out on a table in piles and a computer so that I could inspect the records. The security guard sat to my left and Andrew Thomas sat uncomfortably close to me on my right. And there we sat for 180 minutes while I read papers, took notes, and asked Andrew Thomas questions, most of which he wouldn’t answer. He did refuse to let me take pictures of papers, and he called Carol Humiston about eleventy jillion times.

Then at noon, drunk on his delusions of power,16 he arbitrarily decided I had to stop looking at records and go home because he wanted to eat lunch.17 Well, I wasn’t done, not in the least, and didn’t want to stop, since it takes over an hour to get there on the bus, with two transfers.18 So I had to make another appointment, a week later, and this time Carol Humiston specified that I could only look at records for two and a half hours. So I did.

By the end of five hours I was sure that I needed all the electronic records, and despite his bullshit illegal rationalizations about the USB thing and it costing $10 (for transferring 55 MB, don’t forget) I paid him.19 As you may recall, these are available on Archive.Org. Also I found about fifty paper pages I really needed, and I was out of time for photography, so I paid him for those.20

I completely understand what this BID21 thinks its gaining by making inspections difficult and expensive for me. They think, Carol Humiston probably tells them, that if they make me pay in time and cash then I will give up eventually. But there’s a real mystery here, which is what does the BID hope to gain from making my inspections difficult and expensive for themselves to arrange? That is, Humiston clients universally require from one to three observers to sit with me and stare at me while I inspect records.22

And it’s not just their time they’re wasting, but their actual money as well. And the way Andrew Thomas practically writhed in his unseemly paleocortical pleasure at having what he thought was the upper hand with me just finally really made me determine to find out how much all this nonsense was costing the BID.

Hence I asked him, during one of these inspection periods, for a copy of his contract and the BID’s contract with their security provider23 so I could calculate just how much everyone got paid. And eventually, believe it or not, I did get copies of his contract and of the BID’s contract with their security provider.24 Thus it’s now possible to calculate the actual per-hour human cost of the BID having Andrew Thomas and a security guard sitting there staring at me!

Let’s start with the security guard. The bill rates for security guards of different sorts are found on page 13 of the contract. There are seven kinds of security guards, and I don’t know which kind I had. The bill rates25 vary quite wildly. However, once we throw out the outlier at $43.11 and the power-washing supervisor, which this guy didn’t seem to be, the range is from $22.61 to $25.04, so let’s just say $24 per hour, which is slightly more than the average of those two.26

And now on to Andrew Thomas who, as befits a quite complex character, requires more complex calculations. First of all, the contract took effect on January 1, 2017. At that time Andrew Thomas was paid $135,000 per year. He’s eligible for a 10% bonus and a 4% cost of living increase. They also give him $1,000 per month for health insurance and contribute 5% to his retirement. Thus we’re looking at annual compensation of \$135,000 \times 1.19 + 12,000 = \$172,650 for 2018.

Now, in 2018 he gets 24 paid days off and eleven paid holidays. This is 35 out of 52 \times 5 = 260 work days he gets paid to miss, for a total of 225 days worked. We’ll generously assume 8 hours per any day he actually shows up for a total of 225 \times 8 = 1,800 hours worked. This gives him an hourly cost to the BID of \frac{172,650}{1,800} \frac{dollars}{hour} = 95.92 \frac{dollars}{hour}, which clearly we’ll round up to $100.

So this is a direct cost to the BID of $125 per hour in personnel for me to inspect records, which means the five hours (so far) that I’ve spent looking at these records has cost the BID $625. But don’t forget that Andrew Thomas, who is incapable of making decisions on his own, calls Carol Humiston frequently during the inspection process. She’s not talking to him for free, is she?

And then there’s all the time he spent doing the nonsensical redactions in the first place. The total is unknowable, but it’s clearly over $1,000 at this point.27 So unless the BID is getting something really valuable out of this whole process, it really appears that they’ve spent more than $1,000 to prevent me from getting $50 worth of copies without paying for them.

And there’s not really any cap on their liability. The law gives me the right to inspect that same stack of papers pretty much forever. I may not need to do that, but it’s hard to tell how much time I will need with them. As with all scholarly subjects, the deeper one’s understanding, the more study is needed.

They can limit the rate at which I inspect28 but they can’t prevent me from costing them $125 per hour for the rest of eternity. I mean, they could prevent it by just acting like reasonable human beings, not redacting people’s business email addresses, not sitting around breathing down my neck while I looked at the papers, and so on. But will they? Without understanding their motives it’s hard to be sure. Perhaps they’ll come around eventually.

By the way, this kind of unintelligible money-burning kookiness is yet another reason why the City of Los Angeles really needs some kind of intermediate dispute resolution process for CPRA matters, like e.g. a Sunshine Ordinance. These are laws that supplement the CPRA and make it locally much more expansive. San Francisco’s law is an excellent example.

This post is already too long as it is, so I’ll forgo describing the actual parts of the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance that would prohibit each and every one of Carol Humiston’s bizarro obstructionist tactics, but the law will really repay close study. If we had a law like that we could settle this nonsense before a City commission rather than having only our two present extreme options of either submission or petition. Maybe some day, eh friends?

Image of Andrew Thomas all dressed up like an icky-sticky-coo-coo is ©2018 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and is an über-modified re-envisioning of this Andrew Thomas thing here.

  1. Who, strangely for a lawyer, seems to have some serious anger management issues. I wouldn’t be surprised to find, e.g., that in a past life she’d flunked court-ordered anger management classes like eleventy jillion times in a row and eventually had her probation revoked because of it. But there’s no way to tell if that’s for real, after all people have been debating the existence of past lives for millenia without settling the issue. While it may feel good to her clients to have such a weirdly aggressive lawyer yelling at me on their behalf, it’s possible that in the long run it’s not so good for them. E.g. I’m pretty sure that she lets her disdain for me guide her to give them really, really bad advice, such as that which is the subject of this post.
  2. Motto: Slightly less of a sociopath than Michael Cohen!
  3. When I characterize what I do to her clients as “bothering” them I am assuming Carol Humiston’s putative point of view. In fact, most of what I’m doing has nothing to do with her clients. The state constitution gives you, me, and everyone the right to look at the records of her clients. Her clients have voluntarily assumed the duty to make their records available in exchange for a great deal of benefits. The fact that the clients will be bothered over and subsequently whine about duties that they voluntarily assumed shows that they’re immature twerps. It doesn’t show thing one about my intentions, which are solely to access documents that I have a right to access and subsequently share them with you! My free exercise of my constitutional rights is not causally related to BIDdie twerpitude.
  4. And not just in paying her fees, either.
  5. Obviously I don’t know precisely what she tells them they can withhold, but given what they do withhold, and rather aggressively so, I can see that it’s untenable crap.
  6. These redactions are based on the CPRA at §6253(a), which states that “Any reasonably segregable portion of a record shall be available for inspection by any person requesting the record after deletion of the portions that are exempted by law.”
  7. I’m glossing over another one of Carol Humiston’s favorite tactics here, which is known as the “USB drive gambit.” She tells her clients to insist on transferring data only via USB drive, to insist on buying the most expensive USB drives they can find, to refuse to use Dropbox, to refuse to allow me to use my own USB drive or a CD, and on not attending to the aggregate size of the data. So e.g. Andrew Thomas charged me ten dollars for an 8 GB USB drive in order to transfer 55 MB of data. Aside from the ludicrous cost, this delayed my access to the data for weeks.
  8. Including $10 for the USB drive described in an above footnote.
  9. Especially given that Carol Humiston either directs or allows him to just make up reasons for redacting stuff, so that almost certainly none of those emails needed to be printed at all.
  10. Note that if he had provided all those printed-out emails in electronic format as he’s legally obliged to have done, they would have all fit easily on his still-overpriced $10 USB drive. Thus his crapola redactions raised the price from $10 to $60, a 500% increase.
  11. And obviously other agencies subject to it.
  12. Exactly what constitutes “inspection” is not perfectly settled. Obviously it includes looking at records. I have never but one time had anyone tell me that it did not include the right to take photos of records with a cell phone. That one time, interestingly, was Andrew Thomas. However, once my lawyer discussed it with Carol Humiston she conceded that taking pictures of records with a phone was allowed. Thus I’m assuming it must be allowed because there’s no way on earth Carol Humiston would direct her client to allow it unless required to do so by law. Generally the City of Los Angeles and some of the more sane BIDs will allow me to scan copies of printed-out stuff with my own scanner. Carol Humiston’s clients are not among these. She will give no reason, however. For instance, she once told a lawyer of mine that I couldn’t use a scanner. Why? Because it would require the BID to provide electricity to run the scanner. When it was pointed out to her that I was meeting the BIDdies in a public library to inspect the records, and that therefore the electricity used would belong to the library, she said something like “show me an authority that requires my client to allow the use of a scanner.” That’s the primitive pre-K ethical level on which she operates and to which her clients willingly descend, which is a big assumption, I know, with her.
  13. At §6253.4(b), which states that “The guidelines and regulations adopted pursuant to this section shall not operate to limit the hours public records are open for inspection as prescribed in Section 6253.”
  14. I actually did go look at records, and the putative male was Bob freaking Newman. I’m sorry to say that not even my deep respect for the norms and folkways of journalism could lead me to check on Blair Besten’s claim about dude’s chromosomes. If anyone has first-hand knowledge of the matter, feel free to drop a comment and enlighten the world. Or second-hand. Or, God forbid, both hands.
  15. Again, I didn’t check. Again, if you know and you’re of legal age please feel free to leave a comment on the subject.
  16. It would be kind of cute how he, probably under the influence of Carol Humiston, thinks he somehow has the upper hand in these inspection situations. Like he thinks he’s doing me some kind of service by letting me see the goods. This is a very confused fellow.
  17. Among his other power trips — he told my I couldn’t use my phone to Google things in the emails I was reading as “the time was for me to inspect records only, not to use my phone.” He told me I could not talk to my wife on the phone to ask her to Google things for me. He told me that I could not take photos of records, until Carol Humiston set him straight. This is a seriously mental person.
  18. OK, full disclosure, the Expo Line is the second segment, not a bus. But it’s really crowded in the mornings heading West.
  19. That story is far from over, though, so stay tuned.
  20. Tangentially, I was at the time far from really understanding what had happened between the BID, the City, the Westwood Neighborhood Council, and the subdivision-crazy UCLA students. I didn’t even really understand who all the players were. Obviously I need to look at the papers again, and as obviously the CPRA allows me to do this as much as I want without delay. This being Carol Humiston at work, though, there’s always going to be a delay. It’s what she does. Now it seems that I can’t look at the records for 2.5 hours every week, I have to wait a whole month between inspections. Fortunately for everyone but the BIDdies I am very patient.
  21. And likewise for Carol Humiston’s other clients.
  22. If Carol Humiston is pressed she will say that I’m threatening and they need the observers to protect themselves, but obviously this is silly, especially given that some of her clients go from years of letting me inspect records unattended to, right after Carol Humiston gives them her little talking to, to requiring observers. If I had done something threatening in the interim it seems more likely that they’d have called the police on me than that they’d suddenly decide they need a staff member staring at me for three hours straight. But zillionaires move in a mysterious way their wonders to perform, so maybe I just don’t get it at all.
  23. Here’s another whole part of the saga I’m omitting because this is already longer than anyone but me wants to read, and that’s about oral CPRA requests. Under the law oral requests for records are perfectly valid requests. Andrew Thomas didn’t believe this, although Carol Humiston later set him straight and then, weirdly but characteristically, Andrew Thomas denied that he’d ever denied that oral requests were requests.
  24. Strangely he xeroxed these and mailed them to me for free. Probably this is his idea of baiting me.
  25. This is what the BID pays to the contractor, not what the contractor pays to the guard. It’s the appropriate figure here since the question is how much it’s costing the BID to support Carol Humiston’s weirdo shenanigans rather than how much each participant is earning from the whole situation.
  26. Obviously we should weight the average by the hours billed, which information is available on the chart, but since all the numbers are so close together it’s not going change the answer that much and I’d probably end up rounding to $24 anyway, so let’s spare ourselves the arithmetic, K?
  27. And will grow in the future as I need to inspect the records again.
  28. They can limit it only in a practical sense. That is, the law prohibits them from limiting the rate, but it seems there’s no easy legal remedy for their defiance. We’ll see what happens.

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