“The court is ordered to enter a new order that School District produce all of the Documents except those it has determined are subject to the attorney-client privilege, redacted as necessary to protect third party privacy rights, if any.

“The motion for judicial notice is denied.”

That’s the close of today’s court decision in the case of Caldecott vs. NMUSD.

The school district now has 90 days to turn over everything that Caldecott requested almost a year ago, minus some things that are attorney-client protected and redacted where applicable.

And! Caldecott gets reimbursed for his legal fees.

The information in the documents that may indicate wrongdoing on the part of the Superintendent is not covered by attorney-client privilege so we’ll finally get to see what Caldecott claims the Super had done.

Here are some other opinion nuggets from today’s decision:

“Here, there is no dispute that School District will not produce the Documents unless ordered to do so. Caldecott was forced to file his writ petition to obtain the Documents under the CPRA because School District refused to provide them. As discussed above, the fact Caldecott has a personal copy is irrelevant. “

“Likewise, that some of the Documents may be withheld based on attorney-client privilege does not change this result. (Los Angeles Times v. Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority (2001) 88 Cal.App.4th 1381, 1391 [attorney fees awarded when fewer than all documents requested are ordered produced].) Therefore, Caldecott is entitled to attorney fees.”

Eh, nice try…

“Even assuming for purposes of discussion School District has proven the information in the Documents qualifies as “official information,” we are not persuaded by School District’s claim it should not have to produce the Documents because they contain “meritless complaints about its internal decision-making processes.” Nor do we give credence to its claim production would have a chilling effect on “the important role” of senior administrators in participating in deliberations.”

Trouble ahead for the Super?

“The Education Code gives a “person” the right to sue “an employee” acting in a “supervisory position” who has retaliated against the person for making complaints or disclosing information. (Ed. Code, §§ 44112, subds. (a), (d), 44113, subd. (d); § 3540.1, subds. (g), (j).) Management employees, such as Caldecott, are not excluded from the protection of the whistleblower statutes. Nor are management employees such as Navarro exempt from liability if they were acting in a supervisory capacity. (Hartnett v. Crosier (2012) 205 Cal.App.4th 685, 691; Ed. Code, § 44113.)”

And my favorite…

“The basic goal [of the CPRA] is to open agency action to the light of public review, with its core purpose designed to ‘“contibut[e] significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government.”

So, that’s the good news. The bad news is that an absurd amount of your tax dollars have been spent defending this case. And here is a situation in which I have no hesitation to say, “I told you so.”

I warned the board about this almost a year ago. I warned them that John Caldecott was unlike any other challenge they had faced and that the usual strategy of wearing down the opposition did not apply here.

I didn’t expect them to take my advice and other than the fact that they’ve wasted even more money on Caldecott’s legal fees too, I really don’t care that they took the advice of their attorney over mine.

The other side of this is the explaining the board should be doing immediately. They need to tell taxpayers why they did not allow Caldecott to tell his side of the story before he was fired and they need to tell taxpayers why they protected a Superintendent against the charges of a highly respected 10-year employee who was in a position to have credible information.

The other thing they need to do is think long and hard about how they have conducted themselves and start a personal review of the ethics of their decisions over the past 11 months.

And should the documents prove that Caldecott was right and that there was in fact some monkey business going on, a simple apology would be the right thing to do. Doesn’t have to be anything more than the board president uttering two of the most powerful words in the English language: “I’m sorry.”

That would be the right thing to do. But as we’ve seen in the board’s attempt to deny the public the right to information that could implicate a member of the administration, doing the right thing is not always on their minds.

Steve Smith

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