ATTORNEY CORY BRIGGS REPRESENTS EAST COUNTY MAGAZINE IN ACTION AGAINST CAJON VALLEY SCHOOL BOARD

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“Based on your agency’s history of deleting audio recordings of board meetings, it has become necessary for reporters to record the meetings because your agency cannot be trusted to carry out this basic governance function.Now that all board members are on notice of the fact that the public must perform this function, any member’s participation in a meeting at which the public has been thwarted in its efforts to make a recording will subject the member to criminal prosecution.” – Attorney Cory Briggs, in a letter to the CVUSD.

By Miriam Raftery

Photo:  ECM's recording device, a cell-phone sized recorder on a small tripod next to the front left seat, is clearly not obstructive or disruptive at the May 7 board workshop.

May 17, 2019 (El Cajon) – “Despite lawfully occupying open seats in the front  row, reporters have been threatened with arrest, removal, or both if they did not move to the back of the room,” states a letter sent by Attorney Cory Briggs of Briggs Law Corporation to Cajon Valley Union School District yesterday on behalf of East County Magazine. His letter makes clear that such conduct is “flatly illegal.”

On May 7, Ryan Love, safety and security officer for the district, ordered ECM contributing editor Paul Kruze and editor Miriam Raftery to move to the back, where we explained that audio recordings would not turn out due to noise from an air conditioner and the audience. We refused to comply with this illegal request. 

On May 14, Love again demanded that Kruze move from the front row to the back, and Kruze again refused. Kruze says he was told that an El Cajon Police officer would be called to arrest him.

Photo: Paul Kruze and MIriam Raftery received the Gloria Penner Award for political reporting from Society of Professional Journalists in San Diego last year for our reporting on El Cajon Councilman Ben Kalasho.

ECM began recording meetings ourselves and posting the audio files on our news site after the district repeatedly violated California’s open government laws by destroying its recordings of meetings and refusing to comply with multiple public records requests for tapes of several meetings, as we previously reported. Our initial request was made to obtain audio of public comments includng a citizen who criticized the board over schools failing state standards, accordin to the state's Dashboard evaluations. We wanted to quote his exact words, but could not, since the district destroyed the audio of that and subsequent meetings. State law allows destruction after 30 days, but not if a public records request has been made before then.

An attorney from Californians aware sent a letter to the board March 19 regarding Brown Act violations and the board sent a reply indicating it would comply in the future, but has not done so.  Despite passing a board policy to retain recordings for a year and make copies available to the public on request, new requests for recent meeting tapes were not fulfilled, with the district’s lawyer Dan Shinoff claiming ECM's new requests went to spam. Weeks later, we still have not received any audio files.

Concerned that the board could eject our reporters or bar them from future meetings merely for standing up for our legally protected rights, ECM contacted Briggs about the apparent violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act (California's open government law) and First Amendment freedom of the press infringement.

A member of the public videotaping the May 7 meeting for the Santee Community Connection, intimidated by Love’s demand, did comply and move to the back of the room.  His video was live-streamed on Facebook, where multiple viewers asked that the audio be increased because they had trouble hearing the recording, proving our point.

Govt. Code section 5493.5(a) states that anyone  attending an open public meeting of a local agency has the right to record audio, video  or still photos unless the legislative body makes a reasonable finding that it obstructs view or disrupts proceedings. The photo in this article indicates that the small recording device was not disruptive or obstructive in any way.

Moreover, blocking the press or public from recording meetings or disseminating information is not merely illegal, but also a crime. Got. Code section 54959 states that “Each member of a legislative body who attends a meeting of that legislative body where action is taken in violation of any provision of this chapter, and where the member intends to deprive the public of information to which the member knows or has reason to know the public is entitled under this chapter, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

Briggs’ letter states pointedly, “Based on your agency’s history of deleting audio recordings of board meetings, it has become necessary for reporters to record the meetings because your agency cannot be trusted to carry out this basic governance function. Now that all board members are on notice of the fact that the public must perform this function, any member’s participation in a meeting at which the public has been thwarted in its efforts to make a recording will subject the member to criminal prosecution.”

His letter demands that the district provide “unconditional commitment” to cease and desist its violations, adding, “My client reserves its right to file suit and seek all available relief in the absence of a timely unconditional commitment, without further notice to your agency.”

The letter was e-mailed to Superintendent David Miyashiro and to Jill Barto, clerk of the board and board member. Barto has confirmed receipt.  

Briggs has a history of successful litigation in public interest and government accountability cases.

Comments

Whats new?

I have said it on the ECM several times in the past "Unions, Administrators and teachers" are responsible for the terrible track record of graduating "illiterates" in America. Politics is in classrooms and as in this case, Administrators......... strictly does not belong there. Using the system for self enrichment requires severe penalties as in this case. As to my Federal so called "Representative" Hunter.........he is a total loss.

Keep Making Them Accountable

Dr. Miyashiro changed how board agendas and minutes were published in the first 6 months of his appointment. He also altered how minutes from check and balance committees e.g. Professional Advisory Committee, Citizens Advisory Committee and Cajon Valley Education Association minutes from meetings were shared. His changes definitely decreased transparency and accountability.

Poetic Justice!

This is priceless, the liberals running ECM battling it out with the liberals running Cajon Valley and their Union! Get me the popcorn! LOL

Cajon Valley's board is all Republicans - no liberals.

This has nothing to do with party.  The board consists of four conservative Republicans who have been defying state law and one conservative Republican member who has been speaking out against the board majority. She's been atacked for speaking with media outlets about her concerns, and media has been attacked for doing our jobs.

Our media outlet has always stood our ground against bullies, whether it was Kalasho, a Democrat on the El Cajon Council, or Blackwater, a paramilitary contractor, or the Cajon Valley School board majority on the wrong side of the law.

 

 

Well, that explains it!

Now I know why you've got your knickers in a twist, they're conservatives! It'll be interesting to see how this one plays out, there's at least two sides to every story and you liberals don't have the best record of telling one straight.

Wrong.

I have great respect for board member Jill Barto, who is a very conservative woman with strong ethics.  School boards should not be partisan.  It should be about putting the children first. This district has some good schools and some good programs. But there are also problems that they fail to address and when it comes to transparency, they are downright murky.

Do you really think having 8 schools failing state standards per the Dashboard state standards is okay?  Don't you think that they should admit there are issues and tell the press and public to what they attribute those poor scores, and what steps they intend to take to make them better? Instead of burying their heads in the sand and blaming anyone -- parents or press--who asks those questions?

Are you good with boards refusing to turn over audios of public meetings and  illegally destroying them? If they have nothing to hide, why not make them available?

Do you think it's okay for a board member to sit through a discusssion on a contract worth two-thirds of a million dollars and not disclose that the low bid is from a company owned by her son?  Why does the Superintendent have no  problem with her violating their own board's policy on recusals to avoid even an apperance of a conflict?

These are the issues we've raised, which we would do regardless of parties of anybody involved-just as we've done when any public official locally in any party breaks the law or is accused of doing so. Recent examples of liberals or Democrats we've reported on  include the assault claim against Lemon Grove councilman Arambula, a DUI arrest of Ben Huseo, and the many scandals of then-El Caon Councilman Ben Kalasho.

When public officials start threatening to arrest reporters for recording public meetings, EVERYONE in EVERY PARTY should find that deeply disturbing.

 

 

 

Never said you were wrong,

I'm just suspicious of your motives. If these folks are in fact guilty of the things I've read both here and elsewhere they should all be fired, unconditionally. I've done a little investigating myself and one doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to see that there may be more to the relationship between Miyashiro and Ortiz than meets the eye. I'll share something else with you too, I've been connected to the CVUSD going back to the 60's when McQueen was superintendent. My family were all educators and administrators in this district and I went through it myself, K-12. We homeschooled all of our children as a result, that should tell you something. I do appreciate most of the reporting that is done by you folks, but I do believe that the Politics section needs conservative representation.

Thanks for the tips. Sad that you had to pull your kids out

of the district, which does say a lot about problems being long-standing.  There are a lot of rumors we've heard but we can't print innuendo.  If anyone has documentation or evidence to share about issues with this district, board members etc. you can email editor@eastcountymagazine.org.  

As for politics, we're gearing up to start covering local races and will interview as many candidates for the major local races as we can.  Conservatives who have done interviews with us have generally said they felt their coverage was fair--examples include current members of the El Cajon, La Mesa and Santee city councils and local mayors. It is harder to provide in-depth coverage when a candidate declines to be interviewed, as has been the case with Rep. Hunter and some candidates who turned out to have a lot to hide, ie, a mayoral candidate who said he was "too busy" to be interviewed and turned out to have 99 tax liens filed against him. 

That said, I would welcome some local conservative voices to quote when we are writing issue-oriented pieces and looking for a well-rounded set of viewpoints.

 

Their brazenness is shocking.

Their brazenness is shocking. It's hard to not see this as part of a (new, foul) national mood emanating from Washington. 

 

School Bullies :-(

This is a fine example of what not to teach the kids. Adults bullying other adults. Lying. Intimidating (or at least trying to). Violating laws, etc. I'm a bit perplexed as to why none of these 'intelligent' adults who are in positions of power have not designated an official area for the press and others who wish to record meetings if this is truly an issue and not a personal vendetta - a space where they are able to record good video and audio quality, yet not hinder others. These members ought to remind themselves who pays their salaries, and who they answer to. Yes, the public at large, citizens of El Cajon, taxpayers, "We The People". When people who are in these types of positions appear to be hiding something, folks naturally become suspicious. What are they hiding? It's become blatantly obvious that something possibly nefarious is happening.

Exactly what I was thinking

I was just telling Miriam the other day that if I were a kid, I'd be wicked embarrassed to be going to school under these people.  I'd just want to hang out with my friends and go to school peacefully, but these people seem like the type of people to tell their kid that they can't hang out with the kids of "rival" school board members even if the kids are friends.