Mt. Diablo school district could be held in contempt of court for failing to release court-ordered documents to Bay Area News Group
The Mt. Diablo school district could be held in contempt of court for refusing to turn over documents in connection with a lawsuit filed last year by this newspaper.
Last month, a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge ordered the district to release eight documents to this newspaper in response to a California Public Records Act request and subsequent lawsuit seeking all writings related to complaints, investigations or discipline of former Woodside Elementary teacher Joseph Martin, who was charged last year with 150 counts of molestation involving 14 students.
A jury acquitted Martin in August on 21 counts involving three accusers and deadlocked on 95 other counts involving 11 accusers. The deputy district attorney dismissed 34 counts before jury deliberations began and has not yet decided whether to retry Martin on the remaining charges.
Martin was placed on a leave of absence in April 2013 after a parent complained to the principal about suspicions of inappropriate touching. Martin was arrested two months later and remains in jail in lieu of $10 million bail. Civil lawsuits filed by the accusers and their families against him and the district are pending.
In response to this newspaper’s lawsuit, a judge reviewed documents the district considered exempt from disclosure “in camera,” or in the judge’s chambers. Following this review, the judge ordered the district to produce the following eight documents, saying they were not exempt:
1. Phone message of May 22, 2013, for Julie Braun-Martin, then-assistant superintendent of personnel, from a parent.
2. Letter to Martin from a parent.
3. Email from Martin to Braun-Martin dated May 16, 2013.
4. Phone message of May 22, 2013, for Braun-Martin from parent.
5. Emails from then-Woodside Elementary Principal Jenny Cronan to Braun-Martin dated May 26 and 27, 2013.
6. Letter from Cronan to “Parents of H-I Students” dated May 28, 2013.
7. Phone message of June 7, 2013, for Braun-Martin from Cronan.
8. Email to “Board Members” from then-Interim Superintendent John Bernard dated June 28, 2013.
The district’s outside counsel from Meyers Nave filed a Motion to Reconsider, arguing that the documents were produced through an “improper” inspection in the judge’s chambers. They further argued that the documents are not public records by definition, that they are not responsive to this newspaper’s California Public Records Act request, that they are privileged attorney-client communications, are subject to attorney work product privilege, and they pertain to pending criminal and civil litigation. In addition, the district argued that disclosure would infringe on the privacy rights of families whose children attend Woodside Elementary in Concord, where Martin taught fifth grade.
The district included a declaration under perjury signed by Jayne Williams, who was the district’s interim general counsel when Martin was arrested, arguing that the documents should be exempt from disclosure because they were “retrieved solely from the general counsel’s legal files.”
Regarding Bernard’s email, Williams said: “I am informed, believe and thereon allege that email was sent on June 28, 2013, following the district meeting in closed session on June 24, 2013, to address these matters.”
She attached a copy of the agenda from the meeting, which she asserted “confirms the district’s meeting in closed session to discuss a matter related to a public employee.”
However, the minutes from that meeting — which she did not attach — state that no closed session took place because the public employee issue “has been resolved.” This newspaper asked the court to order the district to show cause why it should not be held in contempt of court for failure to obey the Aug. 14 order, and the judge agreed. Both the motion to reconsider and the contempt of court order are set for Oct. 15 hearings.
Staff writer Matthias Gafni contributed to this report.
Here is the district’s Motion to Reconsider: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKcecFAxSk9jU0lYUGM/edit?usp=sharing
Here is Meyers Nave attorney Kevin Gilbert’s statement in support of the MDUSD motion: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceSTJWRU5US3V0Wkk/edit?usp=sharing
Here is former Interim General Counsel Jayne Williams’ declaration in support of the MDUSD motion: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceZlVDYTY4UEZjZTQ/edit?usp=sharing
Here’s BANG’s Application for Order to Show Cause Why MDUSD Should Not Be Held In Contempt for Failure to Obey Aug. 14, 2014 Disclosure Order: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceekFrT0pOMTg4SmM/edit?usp=sharing
Do you think the district should turn over the documents or be held in contempt of court?
SEPT. 29 UPDATE: BANG filed this Petition for Writ today, which calls into question the actions of former Interim General Counsel Jayne Williams, who appears to have compiled certain documents in a “legal” file, while allowing all other copies of those documents to be discarded, in an apparent attempt to withhold them from release to BANG’s CPRA: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceWEFsWDYwNXhJZ2s/edit?usp=sharing
OCT. 1 UPDATE: Here is BANG’s Opposition to MDUSD’s Motion for Reconsideration: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKcebWNNOXQ5M1l6YVk/view?usp=sharing
Here are Exhibits 1 and 2, which supplement BANG’s Opposition: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceVEZneFRCTGZlLVk/view?usp=sharing
OCT. 3 UPDATE: Here is MDUSD’s Request for a Temporary Stay of Disclosure Order and Opposition to BANG’s Application for Order to Show Cause: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceN2JwU09mR3RJdDg/view?usp=sharing
Here is Jayne Williams’ amended declaration: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKcedTJqNjVCMURJRTQ/view?usp=sharing
Here is Kevin Gilbert’s Declaration in Support of MDUSD’s Request for Temporary Stay of Disclosure Order and Opposition to BANG’s Application for Order to Show Cause why MDUSD Should Not Be Held in Contempt: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceYmhKR2J5dnI4OUE/view?usp=sharing
OCT. 7 UPDATE: Here is BANG’s Reply in Support of Order Holding MDUSD in Contempt for Failing to Obey the Aug. 14 Disclosure Order: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceQnhPVFRrbGNZbWM/view?usp=sharing
OCT. 27 UPDATE: Here is BANG’s motion for attorney’s fees: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceXzR1a3JwNGpaNWc/view?usp=sharing
And here is a declaration in support of the motion: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceQ1BHUFpmZ0RfM0k/view?usp=sharing