Annals Of Public Records Act Bullying Tactics — Brooke Rios Of New Los Angeles Charter Schools Tries An Old Dodge — Sadly Commonplace Among CPRA Obstructionists — “Your Records Are Ready And You Can See Them As Soon As You Give Us $90” — But Then Backs Off In Less Than Two Hours After Being Told That The Law Requires Inspection For Free — Sadly, The Only Unusual Thing About This Episode Is The Short Time Frame

What with the recent unrest in the teacher/labor community which, as you know, led to a historic victory which, for the first time ever, led to the school board recommending a cap on charter schools in Los Angeles, well, and what with Xavier Becerra, the attorney general of California, just recently issuing a historic opinion stating definitively that charter schools are subject to both the Brown Act and the Public Records Act, yes, what with all that, I thought it might be interesting to hit up a few of these zillionaire-beloved trojan horses with some requests for information.1

And one of the ones I hit up in the first round was the New Los Angeles Charter Schools. You can read my request here, sent to NLA boss Brooke Rios, seeking information contained in emails about discussions their administration had about the UTLA strike.2 And roughly within the statutory time-frame, I received a response letter from Rios quoting a bunch of aggro copypasta lawyerese, citing the attorney/client privilege exemption, and informing me that they had 363 pages of responsive material and that I had to pony up $90.75 if I wanted to see the goods.3

Now, that’s $0.25 per page that she was proposing to charge me for copies. The CPRA at §6253(b) allows agencies to charge “fees covering direct costs of duplication,” which it’s doubtful that $0.25 is given that most copy machines cost about $0.02 per page and even FedEx Office only charges $0.13 per page, and they’re making a profit from that. I’m told by those who have reason to know, though, that this is essentially an unwinnable argument in court,4 given that, e.g., the Los Angeles County Superior Court charges about $1 per page for freaking PDFs, and those are the same judges one would be asking to declare $0.25 excessive.

Another problem with Rios’s problematic proposal is that emails are electronic documents. The CPRA at §6253.9(a) requires agencies to provide copies of electronic documents in electronic formats, whereas Rios has obviously printed these emails out on paper and wants to require me to accept and pay for paper copies. Of course, the “direct cost” of making copies of electronic files is $0.00, so her insistence on charging $0.25 for paper copies is a violation of that section as well.

But the real kicker is that the CPRA does not allow agencies to charge for access to records. They’re only allowed to charge for copies of records. This is codified in the CPRA at §6253(a), which states in pertinent part that “[p]ublic 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, except as hereafter provided.” Nothing in the law says they can charge, and so they can’t charge. By insisting that I pay $90.75 before getting access to these records Rios was poised to violate this requirement of the law.

And sadly Rios isn’t the only public official in the world to think of this bushwa means of CPRA obstructionism. It’s commonplace, and it’s essential to push back on it whenever it’s encountered. Thus did I send Rios a response outlining these facts and offering her the choice of providing me with electronic copies for free or letting me come in and scan the records myself with my scanner.5 And although many public agencies take the untenable stance that they can charge exorbitant fees for access to records, not many back down as quickly as Brooke Rios did. It took her less than two hours to concede that I had the right to see the records and make my own copies at no charge.6

It is a very sad situation indeed that public agencies are allowed to attempt to intimidate people who want to look at records, and that it’s necessary not only to understand one’s rights thoroughly but be willing to push back against unsupportable CPRA aggression in order to be able to exercise the right to access public records. It doesn’t seem like the legislature is going to fix this7 any time soon, so right now we have no choice other than to know our rights and push back, push back, push back. And turn the page for transcriptions of everything!

Here are the three PDFs referred to in this post, and transcriptions follow:



To: Brooke Rios <brios@newlosangeles.org>
Date: Sat, Jan 19, 2019 at 1:34 PM

Dear Ms. Rios,

I want to confirm your receipt of a request for documents under the California Public Records Act that I just now sent through your website’s contact form. In my experience these forms are unreliable, so I prefer not to use them. Please confirm receipt of this request.

Here’s what it said:

———–
Good day, New LA. Pursuant to the California Public Records Act I would like to take a look at all emails sent or received by Brooke Rios in 2019 that contain the search keys:

1. strike
2. picket
3. UTLA
4. police
5. LAPD

This matter is of the utmost urgency, so I ask you to take seriously your duties under the CPRA and reply promptly and provide records in a timely manner as required by law.



From: Brooke Rios <brios@newlosangeles.org>
Date: Tue, Jan 22, 2019 at 2:53 PM

This correspondence will serve to respond to your email correspondence dated January 19, 2019, which was emailed to Brooke Rios. Please be advised that New Los Angeles Charter Schools intend to comply with your request, insofar as it is obligated under the Act to comply. We are currently in the process of reviewing/identifying records that would be responsive to your request to determine if such records are identifiable public records subject to disclosure under the Act.



From: Brooke Rios <brios@newlosangeles.org>
Date: Fri, Feb 1, 2019 at 12:37 PM

Please find attached the Response Letter for your Public Records Act request.



February 2, 2019

Via Certified Priority Mail
Return Receipt Requested

Re: Your Public Records Act Request

In accordance with Government Code Section 6253(c), New’ Los Angeles Charter School (“New LA”) has determined that your request seeks disclosable records. With respect to the request, we note that under the Public Records Act, New LA is not required to create new records in order to provide you with the information that you seek. Moreover, the Public Records Act applies only to documents “prepared, owned, used, or retained by” New LA. Govt. Code § 6252(c). To the extent that your request seeks documents beyond this scope. New LA denies your request.

Further, New LA is not required to produce documents protected by the attorney-client privilege. Govt. Code § 6254(k). To the extent your request includes the above information, or any other information exempted by the Public Records Act, New LA denies your request. In responding to your request. New LA docs not waive any further rights it may have to withhold non-public information pursuant to the Public Records Act, and expressly reserves those rights. Lastly, please be advised that New LA also reserves the right to later supplement its production of documents should additional documents responsive to your request be located.

You requested “all emails sent or received by Brooke Rios in 2019 that contain the search keys:

1. strike
2. picket
3. UTLA
4. police
5. LAPD”

The documents containing information responsive to your request will be made available to you once you pay for the direct costs of duplication; New LA has determined that there are 363 pages of responsive records, and the cost of duplication is therefore $90.75. Please send a check for this amount, made out to “New Los Angeles Charter Schools”, to 1919 S. Burnside Avc. Los Angeles, CA, 90016. Once the check is received, the records will be made available to you at our office for pick up or mailed to you at your option.

Please do not hesitate to contact our office should you have any questions.

Sincerely,

Brooke Rios

New Los Angeles Charter School



To: Brooke Rios <brios@newlosangeles.org>
Date: Fri, Feb 1, 2019 at 12:47 PM

Hi Ms. Rios,

First of all, thank you for your timely response.

However, I’m afraid you’ve misconstrued both the law and my request. As I stated, “I would like to take a look at” these emails. Perhaps you’re not aware that the CPRA requires New Los Angeles to allow me to inspect, i.e. “take a look at,” records at no charge.

Furthermore, the CPRA allows New Los Angeles to charge only the direct cost of duplication in exchange for providing copies. As emails are electronic records the direct cost of duplicating them is $0.00.

Thus I implore you, in order to, you know, avoid unnecessary, expensive, time-consuming, irritating, and anxiogenic litigation, to reconsider your ill-taken and ultimately unsupportable position that I will have to pay New Los Angeles anything before looking at these records.

Here are the choices available to you:

1. Provide me with copies of the electronic files at no charge as is required by the law

OR

2. Allow me to come in to the office and look at these records and make copies of them with my own equipment at no charge, as is also required by the law.

Thanks again for rethinking your position on this, Ms. Rios.

If I don’t hear back from you by COB on Friday, February 8, I will assume that you have declined my imploration to reconsider and I will take further action based on this assumption.



From: Brooke Rios <brios@newlosangeles.org>
Date: Fri, Feb 1, 2019 at 2:44 PM

Thank you for your response. Please provides several dates and times when you are available to come to our office and inspect the records.




Image of Brooke Rios is ©2019 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and here’s that other Brooke Rios.

  1. Please, you’re invited to join in the fun as well! Take a look over here for contact information for so, so many charters in the LA Unified School District. Just start asking them for records about whatever you’re interested in. Emails are always a good place to start.
  2. As always, there is a transcription after the break.
  3. As always, also a transcription of this after the break.
  4. Another tragedy with the current state of CPRA jurisprudence is that going to court is the only way to make public agencies follow the law, and most violations aren’t actionable. I’m not sure what the solution to this problem is, but for now it means that probably agencies can get away with charging $0.25 per page for paper copies.
  5. Making copies with one’s own equipment, scanner or cell phone or whatever, is widely understood to be part of the inspection process. I’ll be writing more on this point in the future, but the pending issues aren’t quite at the writing-about stage.
  6. I haven’t yet done this, but I will quite soon, so stay tuned.
  7. Or any of the other myriad problems with the CPRA, for that matter.
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