Los Angeles City Council District 9, presently repped by Curren Price, who at this point is essentially three sealed federal indictments in a trench coat, is notoriously bad about complying with the California Public Records Act. I haven’t written about it here, but have tweeted about it regularly. See here and here, e.g., for stories about his staffie Angelina Dumarot’s1 absolutely shameless obstruction of my access to records.
Her usual method is to print out requested emails on paper immediately on receipt of the request, wait out the 10 days before sending an unusual circumstances extension notice, and then ignore the request for between 2 months and 2 years. When her calendar reminds her to do so2 she’ll either require requesters to inspect her paper copies of emails in person3 or else scan the printed pages to non-searchable PDFs,4 spool them up into fixed-page-length PDFs in random order with individual emails broken across different files.
The fact that she insists on turning emails into printed paper rather than producing native email files as the law requires is in itself a different and still huge problem. And then at some point in early 2020 she stopped responding to my requests entirely. Many of them are more than two years old at this point. Dumarot’s antics, without doubt entirely at the behest of her inexplicably as-yet-unindicted boss Curren Price, have obstructed access not only to emails, but to usable versions of Price’s appointment calendars and other essential information.
The case against CD15 is based on a request I made in June 2019, for which, two years later, I’ve only received minimal responsives with no unexpired deadline for production forthcoming. Buscaino staffer Amy Gebert’s shameless violations of the CPRA led me to file two distinct complaints against her with the LA Ethics Commission, one in August 2020 and the other in February 2021.
The issue is a bunch of requests for emails from CD1. For a couple years Gil Cedillo’s office, mostly in the person of long-time crony Mel Ilomin, was incredibly compliant with the CPRA, just super-helpful. But then, on a number distinct occasions, we here at the blog exposed Cedillo’s machinations to the light of public scrutiny, which may have contributed to Ilomin’s sudden refusal, beginning in 2019, to comply with the law.
In April 2016 LAPD was out hunting suspects with police dogs. One of the dogs scratched on the door of Heller Castillo’s house. He thought the police wanted him to open the door and did so, at which time he was attacked by one of their dogs. Castillo filed a suit. In January 2020 he City Attorney’s office recommended in January 2020 that City Council authorize an aggressive settlement offer of $75K that Lisa Lee, the Deputy handling the case, thought wouldn’t be accepted but wanted to make anyway for strategic reasons, even though she knew the City was at fault and was convinced they’d lose badly if the case went to a jury. Here’s a copy of the confidential report that Lee sent to City Council in January 2020 in advance of the closed session called to discuss the issue.
According to the Los Angeles City Charter the City Attorney represents the City of Los Angeles in lawsuits.1 Which means that from time to time the City Attorney has to consult with the City Council to ask for direction from their client, the City of Los Angeles.2 On such occasions the Brown Act allows3 such meetings to take place in secret, which they always do.
And today I have another such confidential report for you. This is from January 2020 and has to do with the case Castillo v. City of LA,5 in which a police dog bit plaintiff Heller Castillo during an LAPD operation in which he was in no way a suspect. Lisa W. Lee, the Deputy City Attorney handling the case, recommends in this report to City Council that she be allowed to make a 998 offer of $75K to settle, even though, as Lee says:
it is anticipated that Plaintiff will not accept an offer of $75,000, [but] we believe that we should make the offer as a tool to encourage settlement.
Remember last January? Before all this pandemic insurrection nonsense? Anyway, that’s when I filed a suit against both the Highland Park Business Improvement District and the Lincoln Heights BID1 over their failures to comply with the California Public Records Act. I haven’t written much on it because at first it looked like it was going to settle quickly. The BIDs agreed to produce the records and everything was fine.
Then they fired their lawyers and hired Carol “World’s angriest CPRA lawyer” Humiston’s firm, Bradley & Gmelich, to fight the petition instead. Humiston, of course, has it in for me and is even willing to break the law and the rules of the California State Bar to further her obsessive campaign. She apparently actually believes that the only reason I request records from BIDs is to fuck with them and run up their lawyer bills, and she’s determined to prove this in court.
Also as usual they produced emails and their attachments as huge, unwieldy, non-text-searchable PDFs with highly degraded quality even though I asked them for MBOX files and the law requires them to produce MBOX files.2 They also produced attachments this way. You can see from the image what this process does to image files3 but imagine how incredibly useless it makes a spreadsheet! The CPRA’s requirement, found at §6253.9, is clear:
6253.9. (a) Unless otherwise prohibited by law, 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 comply with the following:
(1) The agency shall make the information available in any electronic format in which it holds the information.
(2) Each agency shall provide a copy of an electronic record in the format requested if the requested format is one that has been used by the agency to create copies for its own use or for provision to other agencies. The cost of duplication shall be limited to the direct cost of producing a copy of a record in an electronic format.
They refuse to do it, though, as they have been refusing since at least 2014. They change their reasons all the time, often in response to my pointing out that they’re lying about their capabilities. These days they’re not denying that they can produce MBOX files because everyone knows by now that they can do it even they used to say explicitly that it was impossible.4 Their current argument, also a lie, is that it’s impossible to redact MBOXes, so they can only produce as PDFs, which they can redact.
And when a local agency such as a BID loses a CPRA case the law is very clear. The judge must award costs and fees to the requester.1 It doesn’t happen automatically, though. The prevailing requester has to file a fee motion and if the parties can’t agree on it there’s a hearing. So we filed the motion, and by “we” I mean my attorney, the incomparable Colleen Flynn, and here’s a copy of the fee motion. The BID flipped out and you can read their reply to the fee motion and our reply to their reply if reading a flipout is interesting to you.
But this kind of success breeds resistance, so a lot of charters lawyered up and stopped producing records in response to my requests, or even stopped producing without the benefit of a lawyer’s advice.2 The only option left in such a situation is to start filing lawsuits, and that’s just what I’ve been forced to do.