Trustee ignoring public document requests costs school district $10,385

Former school board president Cory Nunes was asked twice for public documents; ignored warning from newspaper about costly litigation

From the January 18th print edition

Ferndale Unified School District (FUSD) trustees agreed last week to pay this newspaper’s attorney fees and court costs of $10,385. The amount is part of a settlement agreement reached after trustee Cory Nunes in March of 2017 twice ignored public record requests from The Enterprise. The second request warned Nunes, then board president, that if he or anyone else from the district didn’t respond to the newspaper’s request, a “judicial remedy” would be sought.

The monies will come from the district’s general fund, said district superintendent Beth Anderson.

In January of 2016, the district paid $5,500 to cover this newspaper’s attorney fees and court costs in a similar public records lawsuit when now retired superintendent Jack Lakin ignored a public record request from The Enterprise. Nunes did not respond to a request for comment.

“Although we budget for legal expenses, it is unfortunate to lose general funds that could be used in ways to directly support our students,” said Anderson this week. “I will be very diligent as the leader of the district to ensure that public records requests are responded to in the required time frame and with the requested documents.”

Lakin made a similar statement after he failed to respond to a public records request.

“Agreeing to pay The Enterprise’s attorney’s fees and court costs demonstrates a good understanding of the duties the California Public Records Act imposes on public agencies — including school districts,” said Paul Nicholas Boylan, the trial attorney who represented The Enterprise in the records access dispute. “I am hopeful that this kind of dispute between The Enterprise and the district are a thing of the past.”

In similar settlements, the Humboldt County Fair Association has paid Enterprise attorney fees and court costs of $67,000 for ignoring public records requests. While the fair association’s general liability insurance provider paid the first tab of $46,000, it did not pay for a second settlement of $21,000. In addition, the insurance provider refused to pay for the fair association’s own attorney fees in the second public records action, costing the fair association almost $50,000 from its own coffers.

The fair association currently is again using fair funds to pay an attorney to fight against increased transparency. The Enterprise filed litigation last year against the association, contending that the association is a local agency and should conduct its meetings under the California open meeting law otherwise known as the Brown Act. The fair association had operated under the Brown Act — as 99 percent of California’s more than 75 fairs and expositions currently do — for most of its existence. That all changed in February of 2015 when the fair directors changed the associations long-time tax classification as an affiliate of a government entity to a non-profit. As of November 30, 2017, the association had paid $3,355 to Eureka attorney Paul Brisso to defend against the newspaper’s action. Brisso is a new hire by the fair board. Previously, the fair association paid Oakland-based attorney Randy Andrada to defend them.

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