Del Mar Union School District attorney preparing response to public-records lawsuit

By Marsha Sutton

Senior Education Writer

Del Mar parent Michael Robertson, who sued the Del Mar Union School District on Aug. 8 to compel the release of specific email documents, said he and his attorney received a letter last week from DMUSD attorney Dan Shinoff, of Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz, saying Robertson can soon expect a legal response from the district.

“We were served with the lawsuit, and now we’re filing a response to the lawsuit,” Shinoff said. “We’re going to ask for a hearing on it on an expedited basis.”

“I’m fascinated to hear what they’re going to say on why they shouldn’t have to give us this,” Robertson said. “I don’t know what reasonable explanation these guys could have.”

Robertson submitted a California Public Records Act request May 10, asking the district for all communications related to the California Teachers Association’s Week of Action held May 9 to 13. The state’s largest teachers’ union promoted the Week of Action as a way to raise awareness and encourage parents and the public to support increased funding for education.

Robertson filed his CPRA request to review correspondence among district employees, school board members and CTA organizers because he suspected that the district was working with the CTA to coordinate political action, which he said is inappropriate.

Also named in the suit is DMUSD school board president Comischell Rodriguez, for access to her personal emails related to the CPRA request.

Because she “possesses, maintains and controls records responsive to Petitioner’s requests that are not maintained in files” at the district’s offices, “Rodriguez is an indispensible part to this litigation,” reads the suit.

Robertson said the chances of settling the case out of court are low. “The odds of them saying, ‘Okay, you win’ is zero,” Robertson said, vowing to continue litigation to its final conclusion.

Robertson said he was “astonished” that the district would proceed with the litigation. “This will be a giant case, blowing through tens of thousands of dollars, when they should just turn over the damn documents,” he said. “This is money that should be going toward pure educational needs. It should not be going to Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz.”

In a May 27 letter to Robertson, the district said the request was “vague, overbroad and burdensome,” that it was “unrelated to the conduct of the public’s business,” and that the records are “exempt from disclosure because the public interest in not disclosing the information clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure.”

Robertson was critical of the district’s objections. “The outside law firm is happy to burn up DMUSD tax dollars dreaming up creative arguments about why they shouldn’t have to abide by the California Public Records Act like every other government organization,” he said. “Their attitude is, they don’t work for us [and] they should get to decide what information we get. We should just be content with whatever they decide.”

When asked why the district did not release all the emails, Shinoff said there are no more documents to be released. “We’ve provided him every public record that he’s asked for,” Shinoff said.

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