It’s been doing the same thing to student newspaper for years
UCLA is required by state law to turn over “disclosable” public records within 10 days of request. In “unusual circumstances” it can tack on another two weeks, to the extent “reasonably necessary” to process requests.
The taxpayer-funded government institution is more than a year late on its legal obligations in response to one request.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education sued UCLA in Los Angeles Superior Court Wednesday for giving itself five extensions over the 391 days since FIRE filed a public-records request.
The education civil-liberties group is seeking records “related to a campus speaking appearance” by Steven Mnuchin, U.S. treasury secretary, which was marred by disruptive student-led protests. Some arrests were made, though none were students.
Its interest was piqued after The Wall Street Journal reported that Mnuchin had “retracted his permission” from UCLA to share a video of his appearance, FIRE said in a press release Thursday.
UCLA posted the hourlong video after FIRE filed its request, but the university has repeatedly given excuses for why it hasn’t yet turned over “any communications about its release, as well as any agreements between Mnuchin’s office and UCLA about the secretary’s appearance,” according to FIRE.
Its latest self-imposed extension gives the university until April 30, “424 days since FIRE first made its request.”
UCLA has set and then ignored every extension deadline in this situation, and FIRE believes it is a “pattern and practice of unreasonably delaying” the release of records for many filers:
UCLA attempts to give the appearance of complying with the [California Public Records Act’s] requirements by responding to requests with an estimated date when “responsive records” will be released. In actuality, UCLA has not searched for or reviewed responsive records in order to determine whether responsive records exist and which records, or portions thereof, are disclosable. Additionally, UCLA’s estimated date of production bears no relation to the time necessary to produce copies of the record and are repeatedly extended for no permissible reason.
The lawsuit also targets up to five unknown individual defendants who are “responsible in some manner” for the repeated and indefinite delays in production of responsive records.
The university’s first response letter justified an extension on the grounds that records were in “field facilities or other establishments that are separate from the office processing the request,” which FIRE believes is false.
Subsequent response letters got less detailed, simply stating the review process was ongoing. Two successive letters were “substantively identical” except for the estimated release date. Robert Baldridge, UCLA manager of records, never responded to FIRE’s December letter warning the university it was violating state law by not even explaining the delay.
The most recent communication from the school was also substantively identical to the August and November messages, except for the April 30 estimate.
FIRE told the court that its request is not “voluminous” and requires neither “compilation of data” nor “consultation with another agency.”
It cited the Daily Bruin student newspaper, which maintains a list of of its public records requests. Several follow the same pattern as FIRE’s: “modest and reasonable” delays in isolation that “cumulatively reflect” prohibited delays, some of them extending more than four years.
“UCLA’s repeated, unsubstantiated delays and pattern of obstruction in producing disclosable records damages FIRE’s work and frustrates the public’s ability to monitor the actions of the largest institution in the University of California system,” the lawsuit says.
“A university whose motto is ‘let there be light’ shouldn’t keep the public in the dark,” said Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon, FIRE’s director of litigation.