In October 2018 I sent a California Public Records Act request for a bunch of emails to Ruben Alonzo, self-proclaimed founder of Excelencia Charter Academy, a creepy co-locating conspiracy currently occupying the Boyle Heights campus of Sunrise Elementary School. And about six weeks later, at the end of November, Alonzo handed over a suprisingly complete set of responsive records. And what important material it turned out to be.
From it we learned about a demand letter that the United Teachers of Los Angeles sent to Excelencia in June 2018 alleging violations of the Brown Act. And about how insidious privateer brigade the California Charter School Association provides free lawyers to charters to help them co-locate on the campuses of actual public schools. And about how charter school operators use all kinds of shenanaganistic financial maneuvers to skim money from the public funds they receive and funnel it into the coffers of their zillionaire sponsors. And about how Ruben Alonzo is a whiny crybaby stalker who hates democracy and freedom.
And not only was all that stuff revealed but Alonzo was kind enough to produce a set of emails between him and a couple of lawyers, Sarah Kollman and Kimberly Rodriguez, from metaphorically mobbed-up charter school law conspiracy Young Minney & Corr advising him on how to respond to my request and giving him apparently illegal suggestions for how to delay my access to the records. I’m exceedingly familiar with the end result of the anti-CPRA machinations of public agencies, but it’s rare, and very interesting, not to mention useful in deciding how to respond and proceed against them, to get a glimpse of the little folks behind the curtain who create the responses sent out over the signatures of their feckless clients.
The emails also include a series of weirdly puerile and self-serving theories on my thoughts about charter schools and my motives for requesting records and related matters, thereby revealing that evidently I myself am an object of investigation and intelligence-sharing1 amongst the local charterites. For instance, in one email to Alonzo, Sarah Kollman says about me that “This guy is a “community organizer” and has made it his mission to harass charter schools across LA.”2 At one point, Ruben Alonzo identifies me in an email to his tech department as “the same blogger who was attacking Sakshi and Ganas.” Which of course is true, see the story here at the tag archive, and isn’t validation nice!
As I said, the story begins with my October 13, 2018 request for access to some of ECA’s emails. It’s really important to provide as specific a description of what one wants as is practicable,3 and here I asked for 2018 and 2019 emails that:
1. are to/from/cc/bcc any account at any of the following domains:
2. contain any of the following words or phrases:
e. “eastside padres”
I also asked for the emails in “native format.” This is really essential for emails, by the way. When they’re printed out on paper or exported as PDF files it becomes impossible to search them, to sort them by date or any other characteristic, to see the metadata, including BCC recipients, and so on. The CPRA very, very clearly requires agencies to produce electronic records in their native formats.4 Printing emails on paper or exporting them to PDF makes them functionally useless which, I suppose, is part of the reason why so many agencies are so resistant to producing emails this way.5
So Alonzo turned around and forwarded my request to his lawyer, Sarah Kollman, asking if it were even a real thing:
Subject: Fwd: CPRA request (ECA.2019.10.13.a)
From: Ruben Alonzo <email@example.com>
Date: 10/14/19, 8:05 AM
To: “Sarah J. Kollman” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Is this email below legitimate? What is the legal timeline to respond?
And she wrote right back, explaining that he did in fact have to answer. She also characterized me as a community organizer but couldn’t resist taking a lawyerly jab at me by putting scare quotes around the phrase. Ouch, man!6
Subject: RE: CPRA request (ECA.2019.10.13.a)
From: “Sarah J. Kollman” <email@example.com>
Date: 10/14/19, 10:08 AM
To: Ruben Alonzo <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Unfortunately it is.
This guy is a “community organizer” and has made it his mission to harass charter schools across LA. He has sent identical requests to other schools.
You will need to respond. You have 10 days to send an initial letter, and then a reasonable amount of time to search for, redact, and provide the documents. We can help you if you would like.
Sarah J. Kollman
Partner | Attorney at Law | Sacramento Office
Young, Minney & Corr, LLP
655 University Ave, Suite 150, Sacramento, CA 95825
T: 916.646.1400 | F: 916.646.1300 | C: 916.468.9813
And once Alonzo accepts that he has to hand over the goods, he emails Kollman back right away with his first question, that is how long he’s allowed to delay my access:
Yes, can you please help draft a response to reply within the 10-day period? Is end of December a reasonable timeframe to respond to his request? Can we push it into 2020?
And, interestingly, Kollman didn’t answer, and didn’t answer, and didn’t answer, and then, days later, apparently feeling the pain of being ghosted, Alonzo wrote plaintively to her once again:
Wanted to follow up on email below. Please let me know when I can expect a response to send him to reply within the 10-day period which I believe would be Wednesday (10/23). Is end of December a reasonable timeframe to respond to his request? Can we push it into 2020?
And very soon thereafter Kimberly Rodriguez7 sent this lengthy and fascinating response to Alonzo in which she reveals her confused conception of my motives, reveals that she’s been investigating my background, finding out where I work and what my job is, which is never ever a benign matter, and talking about me with other privatizers. She advises Alonzo in a peculiar mix of compliance and violation and, in an unexpected twist, reveals that she believes I am targeting her personally somehow! Kimberly! Let me relieve your anxiety! I can’t tell any of you privatizing lawyers apart from one another! You all look the same to me! My requests are made for the sole purpose of obtaining records. No. Other. Reason. Got it? Good! Now read on!!
Subject: FW: CPRA request (ECA.2019.10.13.a)
From: Kimberly Rodriguez <email@example.com>
Date: 10/18/19, 10:46 AM
CC: “Sarah J. Kollman” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I apologize for the delay in responding, Sarah Kollman asked that I assist you with responding to this Public Records Act request. As Sarah notes, Michael Kohlhaas has been harassing LA-area charters since the UTLA strikes. Mr. Kohlhaas is a blogger http://michaelkohlhaas.org/ and [my job and employer]. He is highly litigious and regularly makes PRA requests to public entities. So far he has been hostile to charters in general and to most of our clients. He has been known to bring his own copier to copy records and attends and records the Board meetings of one of our clients. Based on my interaction with him over the last few months, I recommend that Excelencia Charter Academy respond directly to Mr. Kohlhaas (versus our office responding on your behalf). When I am directly involved in responding to the PRA requests this has escalated the number of requests.
The term “native format” means the regular email format used. Mr. Kohlhaas is using this term to clarify that he does not want pdf’d emails. Also, Mr. Kohlhaas will require that original emails versus forwarded emails to preserve the metadata in the emails. As such, emails should be saved in a folder on your server or in a cloud server (e.g. Drop Box, Google Docs, etc) . If you would like our office to review the responsive emails please provide a copy of the folder to our office via zip file, Google Drive, DropBox, etc. However, as email review is time consuming some clients review and redact the bulk of the emails themselves and only forward emails where they question whether the email is responsive or exempt from production.
Due to very broad request made by Mr. Kohlhaas I recommend that the attached 14-day extension letter be sent on 10/23 indicating that an additional 14 days is necessary to make the initial determination of whether Excelencia has any responsive records and the expected date of production. I am also attaching the initial substantive response that should be sent on 11/6 once you determine how long it may take for you to gather, review and redact all responsive emails. In order to determine a reasonable production date you should determine how many emails may be responsive to the request and how long the review of these emails may take. If it is reasonable, you could set the expected production date for the end of December. If Mr. Kohlhaas pushes back on this production date you could reconsider whether the records can be produced earlier or in batches. Also, if the end of December comes and you are still not finished reviewing and redacting records you could indicate that additional time is needed to complete the review.
Let me know if you have any questions or would like to set up a call.
Attorney at Law | Los Angeles Office
Along with this response Rodriguez provided Alonzo with two response letters to be put on letterhead and sent to me on schedule. The CPRA requires an initial response within ten days, and here’s Rodriguez’s form letter for that. Under unusual circumstances the law allows agencies to extend this by fourteen more days. Rodriguez told Alonzo to do that, and here’s her form letter for that.8 The law is very clear on the fact, by the way, that agencies are absolutely forbidden from delaying access.
A corollary of this prohibition is that agencies must base their response and production times on the actual facts surrounding the request. They must have a reason for extending response time, and not just any reason but one of the reasons listed in the statute. They can’t just randomly say they’ll hand over the records in three months, they have to search out the records, see how many there are, make a good faith estimate of processing time, and so on. When Rodriguez tells Alonzo to wait out the deadline and then claim an extension she is advising him to break the law. This is a violation of State Bar rules, incidentally.
Note also that Rodriguez tells Alonzo that if I [push] back on this production date you could reconsider whether the records can be produced earlier or in batches. That is, she’s well aware that the deadlines she’s advising Alonzo to announce aren’t fact-based and, probably in order to avoid liability, should be adjusted if I complain. Coincidentally, I did in fact complain about this particular deadline and Alonzo responded by producing the material a month earlier than he had said he would, which shows that he actually was just illegally sitting on it.
That they never intended to base their response time on the actual facts is made even more clear by this email from Alonzo to Rodriguez clarifying the dates to send the responses and her response to him, in neither of which does anyone mention basing the timing on the nature of the results. In fact Alonzo’s email to Rodriguez included his letterhead versions of her two response letters, already dated in the future, which makes the violation even more clear. Here’s the ten day letter and the already-prepared fourteen day extension letter.
Anyway, the rest of the emails don’t add anything new to the story, although there’s some interesting by-chatter there so it might be worth browsing through them. But isn’t it interesting to see how agencies construct and implement their obstructionist strategies? How they know what they’re doing even as they excuse themselves on the grounds of ignorance, or underfunding, or good intentions gone awry, or whatever self-serving narratives they adduce? Very kind of Mr. Alonzo to share this important material with the world!
Image of metaphorically mobbed-up super duper lawyer Kimberly Rodriguez is ©2019 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and once upon a time there was…
- The sharing of what passes for intelligence amongst these galaxy-brained world-saviors.
- I guess it’s true enough, but I certainly don’t harass anyone. Shame them yes, expose them, sure, point and mock, of course. But if they feel harassed by free speech then maybe they ought to consider privatizing their own damn selves back to where they belong.
- The CPRA at §6253(b) requires agencies to respond to requests “that reasonably [describe] an identifiable record or records.” Agencies often seize on this as a means of delaying. That is, they’ll wait out their response time and then tell the requester that the request doesn’t reasonably identify anything so needs to be made more specific. They’ll often do this multiple times. Counts as a victory among obstructers, I suppose.
- At §6253.9(a), which states in part that “any agency that has information that constitutes an identifiable public record not exempt from disclosure pursuant to this chapter that is in an electronic format shall make that information available in an electronic format when requested by any person and, when applicable, shall … make the information available in any electronic format in which it holds the information.”
- To their credit, by the way, Young Minney & Corr advise their clients to violate the CPRA in any number of ways, but they’re pretty good about complying with this requirement.
- I wonder if scare quotes can be defamatory?!!!1!?
- Rodriguez, by the way, is a mere associate at YMC whereas Kollman is a partner, so evidently Alonzo isn’t as important to YMC as he thinks he is.
- These deadlines and the extension criteria are found in the CPRA at §6253.