More Monkey Business with Public Records in Gilbert Public Schools

The Good Old Boys of Gilbert Public Schools continue their monkey business when citizens request public records. You would have thought this would end, seeing as how GPS settled their recent public records lawsuit and paid opposing counsels’ legal fees, but no, this is GPS, with [all together now] one hundred years of tradition unhampered by progress.  Sheeeeesh.

Former Interim Superintendent Jack Keegan enjoyed the GOB Kool-Aid so much, he made sport of denying access to public records requests. Keegan wrote a self-congratulatory letter denying access saying, “There, I showed them!” That broadside got shot down by an Attorney General formal opinion, fortunately, but not before the GPS attorneys-on-call racked up some big fees for reading Jack’s mistaken bravado letter and a subsequent letter where he had to eat crow. The point of bringing up this old news is how it connects to NEW news we discovered in our most recent foray to the GPS Temple of Doom to review public records.

We know that anyone can waltz up to the GPS Community Relations office and ask to review board emails at any time, and their requests are granted. There’s a computer station set up in the office for just that purpose. We’ve used it. Since Westie is on the “GPS persona non-grata list,” we send written requests to review specific categories of public records and jump through hoops other people don’t encounter. For example, we made a request to review public records dated March 24, 2014:

We would like to review email correspondence in native format, including messages to, from and among board members from September 30, 2013 through the present. Please let us know when it will be convenient.

On April 15, 2014, we received the following response:

 … the request is almost complete.  We have 3 CD’s of requested information along with 24 pages of printed documents ready at this time.  There are records that are still undergoing the redaction process and we hope to have those shortly. I will send another email when these records ready. You are more than welcome to make an appointment to review the records that are currently ready for review or wait until the others are prepared.

Our request was to simply review the emails on the computer station in the Community Relations office as we had done before, but some bigwig in GPS saw an opportunity to make a big deal out of a simple request and rack up some legal fees at the same time. Seriously. Someone downloaded thousands of email messages, redacted some of them and then scanned them onto CDs. Some of the emails were provided as paper printouts. We were astounded. The fun part of this adventure was HOW we figured things out.

Some of the email messages were printed from the computer of “Judy Phillips.” The nice people in Comm Rel and HR confirmed that Judy Phillips is not a GPS employee, but no one we talked to could explain why Judy Phillips had access to emails among board members, the superintendent and the board attorney, plus a whole host of other people. So we did some detective work.

Judy Phillips is a paralegal at Gust Rosenfeld, the law firm where former board attorney Susan Segal is a partner. We discovered that fact courtesy of our pal Google, and found the Gust Rosenfeld billing rates for the law firm’s contract with Scottsdale. We assume the billing rates are similar for GPS and Arizona School Risk Retention Trust, which pays GPS’s legal fees. (You can extrapolate what it costs for several lawyers to read Jack Keegan’s Kool-Aid-fueled letters.) There’s more! This being GPS GOBs, there’s always more, you know.

Sure enough, there’s an email saying that Good Old Clyde Dangerfield screwed up redacting something or other, and that resulted in a waiver of attorney-client privilege. Cool! This happened in November 2013. Gee, what was going on back then? There was some monkey business, we remember, along with disbelief that voters actually denied GPS an override two years in a row. There was a kerfuffle among employees in the Community Relations office just before that time, as well. We haven’t posted about that situation … yet. It’s a doozie!

Anyway, Clyde’s screw-up might be the reason the GPS bigwig decided that the lawyers-on-call should do the redactions of future responses to public records requests. We would guestimate that Good Old Judy Phillips and her bosses at Gust Rosenfeld (including Susan Segal?) might have racked up about 50 billable hours (exercise your Common Core problem solving skills and do the math; we already shared the billing rates).  What with all the senseless tasks associated with churning legal fees for a simple, routine FOIA request like GPS gets on a daily basis, this was a minor gold mine.

[Waving “Hi!” to Blake Sacha, who was able to unearth legal fees associated with Gust Rosenfeld’s work on prayer during school board meetings. Hey, Blake, we envy your power to get legal fees info — GPS just tells us to pound sand when we ask. How’s the new job?]

Isn’t it interesting that Susan Segal had resigned as the GPS board attorney in February 2014, and yet her law firm was billing for new services associated with a public records request we filed on March 24, 2014?  Isn’t it more interesting that Segal told The Arizona Republic that attorney-client privilege barred her from commenting on her resignation, when this email was posted on Facebook? Why is former board member Myrna Sheppard so entrenched in GPS kerfuffles now? Do you wonder if Susan Segal charged GPS for reading and responding to Myrna Sheppard’s email?

While we were figuring things out, we struck pay dirt for our law student audience.  We’ll post a series on how YOU can become a school board lawyer and churn, churn, churn legal fees beyond your wildest dreams!  We’ll give you concrete examples from several Phoenix law firms; we know they’re successful! [wink, wink, nudge, nudge]

As for all the redacting that Good Old Judy Phillips did, plenty of it was to hide the fact that board member Lily Tram had filed an Open Meeting Law complaint  against a fellow board member. Good Old Lily Tram thought she was being anonymous (or at least, the complaint was not signed) and she got pretty p*ssed when the whole board found out about it. Add to the mix that Susan Segal’s legal advice to the board* was produced with Judy Phillips’ emails, and we get to wondering if GPS lawyers ever actually read the evidence they produce. If they did, we probably would not have received a series of emails dealing with the duty to protect the emails that got erased while GPS was in the middle of several lawsuits. Susan Segal’s legal advice on that subject was produced to us, for example. That probably p*sses off both Jill Humpherys and Lily Tram, but we digress.

We know that the missing emails were still being identified in January 2014 (even though the emails are redacted, probably by Judy Phillips).  The clue is that the 2014 emails refer to other emails about missing emails back in 2009. Oh my goodness, Judy Phillips must have been the “redactor-in-chief” of those emails, too!  It’s a shame (or a gift, depending on your perspective) that she left in the open the part about GPS quashing a subpoena for the missing emails way back in 2009. That indicates a judge was already involved in 2009!

This whole kerfuffle is getting more interesting by the minute. You know we’ll share when we figure out the rest of the story. After all, we figured out who Judy Phillips is! Peace out.

Big Fat Asterisk: Be sure to note that Good Old Jack Keegan pointed out that Susan Segal consulted OTHER attorneys before she wrote this sterling legal advice. Wonder how many lawyers billed GPS and/or The Trust for that little gem?

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