Gilbert Public Schools Loses Again, Settles Public Records Lawsuit

Gilbert Public Schools lost another attempt to hide wrongdoing by top-level officials in the superintendency when the Arizona School Risk Retention Trust (ASRRT, The Trust) settled a lawsuit that was brought against GPS for failing to provide public records requested by citizens.  When it comes to GPS and the Good Old Boys, those little things called laws are slippery little suckers. Here’s some Blinding Flash of the Obvious advice for GOBs: follow the law or pay up!

Let’s cut to the bottom line: GPS (through The Trust) paid Plaintiffs’ lawyers a total of $25,000 for a lawsuit that GPS could never win, but litigated anyway.  The Trust also paid a few thousand dollars for the mediation that resulted in settlement. Why would The Trust defend GPS’s failure to produce public records upon request? As best we can figure, it was the Lawyers’ Perpetual Employment Society in action, guided by ASRRT, The Trust, an entity created with tax dollars that have been flushed down a black hole of unaccountability over many years.

The $64,000 Question is, “How much did The Trust pay the lawyers from the Jones, Skelton & Hochuli law firm for this little kabuki dance?” We believe the answer is about $100,000; as usual, there was the potential for much more, except that the opportunity for perpetual litigation was severely limited when GPS lost the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. As much as the LPES lawyers howled, they still lost and GPS was ordered to pay Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees. Here’s the real deal: the LPES lawyers argued they didn’t like losing, then they argued that the Plaintiffs should not have won. At each step along the way, the LPES lawyers were billing The Trust as they filed those documents in court. Plaintiffs’ lawyers had to respond to the each step of the LPES kabuki dance, which ran up legal fees on both sides. [BTW: In 2014 dollars, the $64,000 of the aforementioned scandal is worth about $560,000.]

The public records lawsuit was filed under A.R.S. § 39-121 to compel Gilbert Unified School District No. 41 (the “District”) to provide public records to which Plaintiffs were wrongfully denied access or copies.  The lovely thing about bringing an authentic* public records lawsuit is that the aggrieved person who was denied the records can recoup costs and attorneys’ fees for bringing the case to court:

A.R.S. § 39-121.02. Action upon denial of access; expenses and attorney fees; damages
A. Any person who has requested to examine or copy public records pursuant to the provisions of this article, and who has been denied access to or the right to copy such records, may appeal the denial through a special action in the superior court, pursuant to the rules of procedure for special actions against the officer or public body.
B. If the court determines that a person was wrongfully denied access to or the right to copy a public record and if the court finds that the custodian of such public record acted in bad faith, or in an arbitrary or capricious manner, the superior court may award to the petitioner legal costs, including reasonable attorney fees, as determined by the court.
C. Any person who is wrongfully denied access to public records pursuant to the provisions of this article shall have a cause of action against the officer or public body for any damages resulting therefrom.

Even when a Governing Board knows that the superintendency was wrong to withhold public records, the board has no vote about litigating the h*ll out of the case, because the GOBs and The Trust are in control, not the board.  The Trust prides itself on retaining control of claims, leaving Governing Boards totally out of the loop in litigation. They’re proud of it! And as long as there is money in The Trust’s bank accounts (we estimate $5 Billion) the LPES lawyers just can’t help themselves from taking a piece of the pie for themselves and their law firms. Just like budgeting in government agencies where agencies make certain to spend every last dime every year, lawyers for The Trust never leave school district money on the table – they make sure they take every penny possible.

A couple of members of the GPS governing board and the wannabes that want to “take back” the board seats they lost are now complaining about the high cost of fulfilling requests for public records. One wannabe who couldn’t get elected after he had a seat handed to him is now in full battle mode about the costs involved.  A citizen who frequently comments at board meetings helpfully compiled a list of how many requests for public records have been made over the past few years. Unfortunately for the validity of that list, the fact of the matter is that GPS simply didn’t keep track of the public records requests they ignored for so long. So yes, there is a big uptick in public records requests in the past year or so. It says something really ugly about past administrators that members of the Governing Board must submit requests for public records in order to exercise their fiduciary duty to citizens and taxpayers and learn what’s really going on in Gilbert Public Schools.

A “benefit” of litigation is that you get “discovery” from the very same folks who refused to give access to the public records in the first place, but this time, there’s a judge presiding over the process. It’s a lot harder to just refuse to cooperate (although GPS tried mightily). That’s how we “discovered” that GPS Community Relations was supposed to be in charge of responding to public records requests, even though we had been told that Assistant Superintendent Clyde Dangerfield was the head dude in charge of that stuff. As it turns out, there was a whole lot of turmoil in Community Relations under the “leadership” of six-figure salaried Dianne Bowers, which came to light as we pressed for additional public records.

Coincidently, Community Relations staffer Nicole Richardson’s forays into inappropriate social media commentary revealed that there was an investigation report that conveniently was un-protected by attorney-client privilege (a questionable claim that didn’t have to be litigated, as it turned out). We asked for a copy of that investigation report, and we discovered all kinds of unsavory activity related to producing public records, specifically in reference to Westie! We very helpfully turned around and disclosed that fact in our public records lawsuit, and the whole case suddenly was about GPS GOBs destroying public records (or ceasing to keep them) so that they could keep their wrongdoing under wraps.

This brings us to a stopping point for today, because we told you about how GPS “lost” in court again … and paid a price for it. We guess that the GPS GOBs don’t think twice about dropping $125,000 plus to litigate a losing proposition, but we know that Gilbert citizens resent such huge sums of money being funneled away from educating students. Every penny that goes to ASRRT, The Trust every year could have been spent on students, teachers, staff … you know, worthwhile educational endeavors. Instead, GPS (and all Arizona school districts) toss money to the winds in the form of unnecessary money paid to lawyers for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with education. That’s what happened during the years of complacent school boards in GPS … brought to you by the same people who now want to “take back” what they had before voters rejected them.

We’ll have more for you about the newly-disclosed investigation report soon. In addition to the public records we finally received, we gained a lot of knowledge through answers to interrogatories and sworn deposition testimony from the defendants, the GOBs we all know so well. We’ll continue to update you on those valuable nuggets of information as well.

*Big Fat Asterisk:  We all know how Westie loves authentic information. Tag line: “WesternConnections …  Authentic and Informative.”

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