It turns out that earlier this year a small town newspaper called The Sacramento Valley Mirror took on the challenge of attempting to find out how much the AOC spent to remodel a court chamber located in the Orland Branch of the Glenn County Superior Court. The AOC responded in the usual way when they receive requests for budgets and financial information. They drew up the drawbridge over the moat and yelled no! And when the paper filed a writ of mandate, the court responded by releasing quarterly financial reports but nothing specifically related to the spending for remodeling the courtroom. And that’s when things got really interesting according to the paper’s own account.
After Paul Nicholas Boylan, of Davis, filed the suit on behalf of the paper, 10 remodel documents were released. And most of them led to other documents and revealed an unaccounted, secreted spending.
Of particular concern was the matter of estimates. None were apparently solicited.
Also, the fees and contract for an interior decorator, a former court official from Nevada County, are hidden as well as cost of furniture, lighting and other items.
References to these things were also documented in county records secured from the Glenn County Department of Buildings and Grounds and the Glenn County Department of Finance.
The attorney for Ms. Burkhart argued that the court wasn’t compelled to release information on how it spent the public’s money.
But Justice Dawson disagreed, saying that while the California Public Records Act did not directly apply, and the rule of court was not precise, “The spirit of the California Public Records Act” was what counted.
The Administrative Office of the Courts and the chief justice have long said that the public has the right to know exactly how its money is spent. Yet, for the most part court operations are hidden from public view. This, despite the direction from court hierarchy in San Francisco.
Justice Dawson mentioned above is Justice Betty Dawson of the Fifth District Court of Appeal who ruled in favor of The Sacramento Valley Mirror and is front contender for my Golden Gavel Award.
And how does attorney Paul Boylan feel about the court’s ruling?
“I never doubted this outcome. It is simply absurd to believe that any governmental agency, even a court, can hide how they spend public money, and yet that is exactly what the court’s attorney was arguing. Every dollar spent defending the decision to withhold the requested information was a dollar utterly wasted that should have been spent on something else.
…..”The bottom line is that most public agencies say no because they can, not because they have a reason for saying no.”
Hmm…between Justice Dawson and The Sacramento Valley Mirror, it’s going to be a tough choice trying to decide who should get the Golden Gavel Award this year. You can read more about this David vs Goliath battle here.