Public information

Crews sues Jerry Brown

Tim Crews

Tim Crews

CN&R file photo

Tim Crews, the feisty editor and publisher of the Willows-based Sacramento Valley Mirror, continues to do whatever it takes to ferret out information that government agencies want to keep secret. This time he’s sued state Attorney General Jerry Brown.

At issue, Crews says, is whether the Department of Justice is being pressured to “delay, soften or outright scuttle” an investigation of alleged wrongdoing at the Glenn County Office of Education.

More than a year ago, following an exhaustive series of articles in the Valley Mirror, the DOJ launched an investigation into charges that, under then-Superintendent Joni Samples, the office had misused public funds, equipment and staff; used office resources for campaign purposes; used confidential personnel information for election mailings; commingled public and private money for travel; billed for nonexistent airplane tickets; and exerted little or no control over credit-card spending.

In large part because of Crews’ reporting, which was based on aggressive use of the California Public Records Act to obtain documents, Samples’ designated successor to replace her as superintendent, Coleen Parker, lost in the November 2006 election to the candidate Crews had endorsed, Arturo Barrera.

Shortly after the election, the Glenn County Grand Jury asked the DOJ to investigate the GCOE. That was more than a year ago, and still no report has been issued.

After hearing from knowledgeable sources that outside political pressure was being brought to bear on the DOJ, Crews said, he filed a Public Records Act request with the DOJ on Dec. 3 asking for “[a]ll letters and e-mails of recommendation, letters and e-mails as pleas for clemency, letters and e-mails asking for non-prosecution and related documents involving former Glenn County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joni Samples.”

Crews won’t say who he believes is pressuring the DOJ, but in a Dec. 26 article in the Valley Mirror, he notes a similar earlier incident. It occurred three years ago, in neighboring Colusa County, when District Attorney John Poyner launched a criminal probe of misuse of public funds by Pierce (Arbuckle) School District Superintendent Jim Lutz. “Poyner endured a lot of pressure from the Association of California School Administrators,” Crews writes. Poyner persisted, however, and Lutz was found guilty.

Crews goes on to note that Samples “was president of ACSA during some of the time when major problems with GCOE were occurring.”

Ten days after Crews filed his suit, on Dec. 13, Deputy Attorney General Michael Dolida responded, refusing to release the records on the basis that they were “investigation materials, which are expressly exempt from disclosure….”

As Crews notes, Dolida also ruled that the request “seeks documents that are exempted as being private in nature. … Finally, some of the requested records also include the analysis and conclusions of investigative personnel from this Office. … Accordingly, your request to inspect the … records is denied.”

That was not what he requested, Crews states in his article: “We asked for no conclusions.” Besides, he adds, the CPRA “calls for segregation of exempt materials, redacting [blacking out] of sections that must be withheld. … And it does not allow for blanket refusals.”

What he finds especially interesting is that Dolida didn’t deny having the records Crews requested: “If they didn’t exist, he’d just say so.”

With his lawsuit, Crews writes, “We hope to persuade the attorney general to turn over the public records to us and to find out who is lobbying and why. We simply want to know—and our readers have the right to know—how the system really works.”