A nonprofit student- and faculty-rights group announced a lawsuit Thursday against UCLA, accusing the university of repeatedly stonewalling a request for public records pertaining to a 2018 campus appearance by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education claims 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 date arrived, claiming that its review of the documents was not complete.”
UCLA spokesman Ricardo Vazquez told City News Service the university is aware of the lawsuit and reviewing it.
Mnuchin’s appearance at the Westwood campus in February 2018 turned chaotic when hecklers disrupted his presentation and had to be removed from the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations.
According to various reports, UCLA and the Treasury Department had an agreement to post a video of Mnuchin’s speech, but Mnuchin withdrew his consent to have the video posted in light of the disruptions by hecklers. The resulting decision not to release the video led to protests from various groups, including the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
According to FIRE, the nonprofit group filed a public records request on March 2, 2018, seeking a copy of the video and “any communications about its release, as well as any agreements between Mnuchin’s office and UCLA about the secretary’s appearance.”
UCLA released the video of the speech on March 9, 2018, but according to FIRE, the university has “failed to release any of the other requested documents.”
“These impermissible delays evidence an unreasonable practice of obstructing access to public records in violation of the (California Public Records Act’s) mandate that records be made available `promptly’ and without `delay,’ and represent an end-run around the requirement to provide an estimated date for their disclosure within the statutorily defined timeframe,” according to FIRE’s lawsuit.
The suit seeks an order finding that UCLA has violated state public records laws and an order that the university produce “all of the disclosable records” in response to FIRE’s request.
The lawsuit mirrors continuing efforts by SPJ/LA to obtain public records from UCLA about Mnuchin’s speech and the release of the video. The journalism organization sent a letter this month to the University of California Board of Regents accusing UCLA of “willful violation” of the state Public Records Act by refusing to provide “an explanation and background material behind both UCLA’s initial decision to withhold publication of the video, and its reversal to allow the posting.”
The letter claims SPJ has received repeated “auto-generated emails” from UCLA revising the planned timeline for the release of the requested information because the documents were still under review.
“Our efforts to appeal to UCLA have been unavailing, and our patience is exhausted,” according to the letter.
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