When I covered the trial in Los Angeles for ex-N-MUSD Superintendent Jeffrey Hubbard, I saw at least two trustees also there to watch the proceedings.

Yesterday, when judge Geoffrey T. Glass was scheduled to give his ruling on John Caldecott’s request to have district documents made public, there were no district representatives there, only the district’s attorney. What that says, I’m not sure, but I don’t understand why two trustees would travel 40 miles to see court proceedings for a superintendent who was in deep trouble, but would not travel 10 miles to see the proceedings for a case that could cause trouble for the current super.

Before the afternoon session began, I had to convince the judge to allow a video camera in the courtroom so that Barry Friedland of Costa Mesa Brief could film the proceedings. I was there to act as the on-camera reporter. The last time I stood before a judge, I was about 25 and had to answer a citation for fishing without a license. You’ll be able to see our reporting and interviews here shortly.

Judge Glass took his time making his decision, which was greatly appreciated as Friedland and I filed the motion after the five-day deadline had passed. Our request held up the start of the session for about 15 minutes. When Glass asked Caldecott’s attorney if he had any objections, he replied “No,” and explained that it was in the interest of transparency.

When the district’s attorney was asked if he objected, he said, “Yes.” No explanation, no support of any kind. His response was not a surprise as it fit neatly with the district’s usual response to anything that is not good news: Don’t say anything unless you have to and if you have to, say as little as possible. That’s why taxpayers have had no update or response on any of the issues Caldecott has raised and why taxpayers have not heard any responses or updates to the several other controversies plaguing the district right now. (OBTW, add to that growing list the current negotiations with the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers.) For an incomplete list, see my previous posts.

The hearings began and it was clear to me that Glass was a thoughtful jurist. With each case before him, he tried to get deeper into the issues, sometimes thinking so far ahead of the attorneys that he had to wait patiently while they caught up to his train of thought.

And so it was with Caldecott vs. the N-MUSD. It was explained to the judge that the reason Caldecott was requesting disclosure of the allegedly incriminating documents, even though he has them in his possession, was because he was concerned about a possible lawsuit for libel, slander, or defamation of character. Glass asked the attorneys whether that was a moot point; whether the possibility applied regardless of the request through the California Public Records Act (CPRA).

It was an extremely interesting exchange, with a judge who was clearly miles ahead of both attorneys, struggling to get them to understand a broader view of a complex issue. In the end, they could not, and Glass decided to make his decision at a later time. This was an interesting development considering the fact that the public preview of the outcome was that Glass would deny the motion to disclose.

There were two issues regarding the request, one I will discuss now, and one perhaps more important that I will save for after the judge makes his ruling.

The issue for now that was not discussed yesterday was also a broader view of Caldecott’s CPRA request. Caldecott has made it clear from the outset that he going through all this trouble not because he has anything to gain – he has not filed a whistleblower lawsuit or sued for any money whatsoever – but because he believes the public has a right to see the documents related to what he claims are financial improprieties by superintendent Fred Navarro. This position is supported by the fact that Caldecott voiced his concern months before he was fired without a hearing last January. That alone should refute any claim that this is strictly a matter of a disgruntled employee trying to get revenge.

So what is the public’s right to know, that is, where does it start? In this case, the allegations involve public dollars. If Caldecott’s request is denied and if he never releases his copies because he is afraid of a lawsuit, the public may never have the benefit of an investigation as to whether the superintendent abused his position. That, to me, is the heart of this issue. In a matter such as this, the public must know.

It should be noted that when asked whether the district had any plans to sue Caldecott should he reveal the documents, the reply was not a firm “Never, no way, ever.”

I have no idea which way the judge will rule. I hope he will determine that this is less a case of Caldecott vs. the N-MUSD and more a case of the Taxpayers of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa vs. the N-MUSD and order the district to release the documents immediately.

But there is another element of this case on which I recently received some legal interpretation. The attorney whom I discussed my point told me that I was correct, that is, if the documents are not released through the CPRA, there could be this certain devastating consequence, one which was not discussed yesterday – or anywhere – and which could have implications for many future CPRA requests. If that happens, we all lose.

But, the fat lady has not yet sung.

There is a school board meeting at 6 p.m. tonight at 2985 Bear St. in Costa Mesa. If there are no awards being handed out (I could not access the agenda this morning), things will start on time and it should go smoothly through a string of unanimous votes. But if you want to speak up, this would be a good time. See you there.

Steve Smith

Advertisements