The Voice of OC filed a lawsuit today asking the Orange County Superior Court to compel the County of Orange to release the letter received by the county from the attorney for Assistant CEO Alisa Drakodaidis. The letter, which was sent to county officials including the members of the Board of Supervisors, should be a public record according to public records access expert Terry Francke.
Terry Francke, who is general counsel to the open-records advocacy group Californians Aware and an open-records consultant for Voice of OC, told Voice of OC that the county is violating the law.
“A letter from a suddenly departed (and not happily departed) employee’s attorney to her former employer has to be in the nature of a legal demand of some kind: if not a tort claim then for these purposes analogous to a tort claim. It is therefore just as disclosable as a tort claim, and not subject to any of the asserted exemptions,” Francke said.
In a story Wednesday, Voice of OC reported that the County has changed its reasoning for blocking the release of the letter. County Counsel Nick Chrisos claims; “the letter contains personnel information, the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
Californians Aware, the Center for Public Forum Rights, is joining Voice of OC in the suit. Californians Aware is a nonprofit organization established to help journalists and others keep Californians aware of what they need to know to hold government and other powerful institutions accountable for their actions.
From the Voice of OC story Monday afternoon:
“I understand that county supervisors are worried about releasing a letter that makes what they consider to be baseless allegations against supervisors and staffers,” said Norberto Santana Jr., Voice of OC editor-in-chief. “However, embarrassment is not an exemption under the law in California regarding public records.”
Terry Francke, CalAware’s general counsel and Voice of OC’s open-records consultant, said the county’s legal arguments are without merit.
“The county’s No. 2 executive uses her lawyer to say she’s sick of the improper behavior she’s seeing among the people she works with,” Francke said. “[And] the county has the gall to call that a private medical issue.”
Kelly Aviles, the attorney who will be litigating the case on behalf of the nonprofit organizations, said the continued withholding of the letter is “just another attempt to cover-up allegations of misconduct” among county officials.
“Orange County seems to be in dire need of greater transparency, and we are committed to bring it by whatever means necessary,” Aviles said.