The First Amendment Coalition has prevailed in a lawsuit against the San Diego district attorney’s office, forcing the disclosure of public records related to accusations of sexual misconduct by public employees.
As a result of FAC’s lawsuit, a court ordered the county to turn over dozens of pages of records. District Attorney Summer Stephan’s decision to not comply with the California Public Records Act comes at a cost to taxpayers: The county will pay nearly $100,000 to FAC and its lawyers.
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday, Oct. 16 voted to approve the settlement, which came after a year of litigation in San Diego Superior Court.
FAC’s lawsuit vindicated an important principle under the California Public Records Act — that public agencies must produce actual records in their files. The district attorney insisted that it was sufficient for the agency to release tailored summaries of records, while withholding the records themselves.
“From inception, this lawsuit was as much about a legal principle as the records themselves,” FAC Executive Director David Snyder said. “The district attorney’s assertion that summaries are sufficient would turn the public records act on its head, allowing agencies to spin facts to their liking. If unchallenged, this position would open the door to wide abuses. FAC’s victory here helps ensure that can’t happen.”
FAC filed suit in July 2018 after providing the district attorney’s office several chances to comply with the public records act. The office acknowleged having records relating to at least six instances of internal complaints of sexual harassment or misconduct dating back to 2013. FAC first requested the records in April 2018.
These records are of particular interest not just because they involved investigations of employee misconduct, but also because they are in the possession of the district attorney’s office, an agency that holds a special place of public trust.
The county must pay FAC and its lawyers $97,500 by Oct. 31.
FAC was represented by Jean-Paul Jassy, Kevin Vick and Elizabeth Baldridge of the law firm Jassy Vick Carolan.
Read FAC’s Petition for Writ of Mandate, FAC’s Merits Brief and the Court Order.
For more information contact:
First Amendment Coalition
Jassy Vick Carolan