PUBLIC INFORMATION -- When a small rural court system holds back spending information sought by a small local newspaper, the response may be meek—unless the newspaper is the Sacramento Valley Mirror.


Here's the type-lashing Editor-Publisher Tim Crews (a member of the Californians Aware board of directors) is giving the Glenn County Superior Court this week, reacting to records made available to the Valley Mirror to settle a public information lawsuit.

Why is the superior court hiding info, prevaricating?

We were both amused and saddened by the Glenn County Superior Court’s breaking their word on disclosing the “rest of the story” on the $25,500 makeover of a small office in Orland.
    After saying more than once that we’d gotten all the material we requested — and then only after we had to sue to get it — the court administration agreed to tell all. And did not.
    The hostility of Court Administrator Tina Burkhart and her minions borders on the absurd. In the last 32 pages released to us, redactions — deletions made by covering information or blacking it out — seem to have been made out of malice or compete ignorance of the policies of the California court system.
    As one court official said from San Francisco on a similar fracas in Yolo County, “It's good for our right hand to know what the left hand is doing, particularly when the left hand does not set our policy of fair and open access.”
    Some of the redactions are more nonsensical than others. A significant amount of public funds were paid to former Nevada County Court Administrator Paula J. Carli, now an interior decorator. Her address, phone number and e-mail were obliterated on all but one invoice, which apparently slipped through the secreting system.
    Why the “Scope of Work,” what she was billing for, was hidden is beyond comprehension.
On some pages half has been covered. For example:

“painting questions [two full lines covered] Meeting set up with Judge Twede for September 9th … [seven and a half lines redacted] … received information from ct re chamber measurements.
(Three quarters of a line redacted] Worked further on Judge Twede’s chambers.
September & October (3rd) [eight lines redacted] … scheduled to meet with Judge Twede to go over my concepts for his room. Worked on concept board and tentative project plan for the remodel. [Here three and a half lines are hidden] Site visit Sept 9 [a line redacted] … drove to Orland and met Judge Twede. Presented the remodel to hi, made notes. Sent recap of the meeting to CEO Researched furniture due to difficult sizing available.
[Some eight lines secreted here] Contacted by CEO (Ms Burkhart] and B&G [Buildings and Grounds], regarding remodel plans for Judge Twede’s chamber.…

On the remainder of that page, seven lines are revealed and eight are hidden.
    The court administration here told the Administrative Office of the Courts, the judicial mother ship, as it were, that the furniture of Judge Peter Twede’s new chambers was purchased by the county. This bald-faced lie is doubly absurd since the payments weren’t even routed through the county and the bills went directly to the court.
    The resistance to public review of public money spending seems to originate in the Superior Court’s county administration. And little wonder when the low ceiling for bidding is set at $400,000. That’s right, court execs can spend $400,000 without competitive bidding.
    The courts, which should be the most open and accountable of all public agencies, have morphed here into something Dick Cheney would admire: defiant, mean-spirited, secretive.