Campus Reform | UCLA sued after stonewalling Steve Mnuchin public records request

UCLA sued after stonewalling Steve Mnuchin public records request

The Foundation for Individual Rights won a lawsuit against UCLA after the university failed to fulfill a public records request.

It took 404 days for the the university to respond to the request.

A California court has ruled that the University of California-Los Angeles violated the law by not fulfilling an open records request by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education regarding a speaking event by U.S Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The lawsuit was initially filed by FIRE on March 2, 2018. 

The non-profit organization had “requested records from the University of California, Los Angeles under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) about a campus speaking appearance several days earlier by U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin.” 

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News outlets reported that several protesters were “escorted out of the speech for heckling Mnuchin.” In response, Mnuchin “withdrew his permission for UCLA to release video of the appearance.”

FIRE’s March 2, 2018 records request — in addition to seeking a copy of the video later posted to UCLA’s website — asked to see any agreements between UCLA and Mnuchin related to his campus appearance as well as any communications about releasing the video,” read the case file. 

The lawsuit stated that “UCLA has repeatedly provided an estimated date and time on which it would make the records available, then unilaterally extended its deadline when each successive estimated date arrived, claiming that its review of the documents was not complete," adding, "this pattern has continued for over a year, despite FIRE’s attempt to remind UCLA of its statutory obligation to make disclosable records available ‘promptly.’"

“UCLA has shirked its responsibility under California law to disclose public information and is withholding administrative records about one of the largest public colleges in the state and a high-ranking member of the federal government," FIRE Director of Litigation Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon said in a March 2019 press release.

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Beck-Coon went on to say that a “university whose motto is ‘let there be light’ shouldn’t keep the public in the dark.”

FIRE announced that UCLA handed over the 13 pages of requested documents on April 10, 2019 — more than 13 months after FIRE filed its original request. Now, the Superior Court of California has ruled in favor of FIRE, concluding that the university acted against state public records laws by delaying the process.

“It shouldn’t take over a year and litigation to get 13 pages of documents from a public university,” said Beck-Coon upon announcing the win. “The people of California deserve far better from the institutions they fund.”

Greg Harold Greubel, Staff Attorney and Litigationist for FIRE, told Campus Reform, "We encourage UCLA to finally fulfill the Daily Bruin’s many ignored requests for documents in light of this lawsuit. We are satisfied with the outcome of this case, but we remain concerned with delays in the CPRA process.”

Speech First President Nicole Neily told Campus Reform, “ I'm delighted that FIRE prevailed in their pursuit of documents - but this is a chilling reminder that most individuals who seek documents from public institutions lack both the resources and the bandwidth to pursue these requests indefinitely. It's appalling that public universities around the country shirk their responsibilities under the law with regards to transparency. Given shenanigans like this, it's little surprise that public confidence in higher education is at an all-time low.” 

Campus Reform reached out to the media relations team at UCLA for further comment about the lawsuit; however, a reply was not received in time for publication. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @ashleyecarnahan