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FIRE Wins Case Against UCLA for Violation of Public Records Law

The Superior Court of California has ruled in favor of a lawsuit brought against the University of California at Los Angeles by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for violating the California Public Records Act.

FIRE’s lawsuit stemmed from their request for documents and video from a speaking engagement by US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin at the campus on February 26, 2018, during which several protesters were escorted out of the venue, prompting FIRE to inquire into the episode.

On March 2, 2018, FIRE filed a public records request with UCLA, requesting video taken of the event and any agreements between Mnuchin’s office and UCLA regarding the secretary’s visit. UCLA responded by posting the video for the public, but did not release any other documents.

Runaround

In the decision, the judge determined that FIRE asked for “reasonably described identifiable records.” They also acknowledged that UCLA responded to the request for the video.

The judge took note of UCLA’s multiple requests for extensions, beginning with communication forwarded to the petitioner on March 26, 2018. UCLA eventually requested an extension four times. The latest date of completion UCLA promised was April 30, 2019.

The director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, Adam Stienbaugh, declared that UCLA should not be allowed to defeat public records law by “unilaterally putting off its response deadline forever.” He called it a “serious abuse” of the public trust and that following the law is not an option. 

The California Public Records Act stipulates that public records should be made “promptly available.” As the court has rendered judgment, UCLA has clearly failed to comply. The resolution also states that UCLA admitted its violation when the request exceeded one year. 

FIRE stated that the reason for the lawsuit was to remind UCLA and other public institutions that fulfilling public records requests is a “moral and legal obligation.”