PUBLIC INFORMATION — In the first reported lawsuit to obtain records of court administration brought under the public information access rules of the California Judicial Council effective January 1, an action filed last Tuesday by counsel for the Sacramento Valley Mirror resulted in an offer to release the information three days later.

As editor and publisher Tim Crews explained it to his readers in an editorial,

Public money secretly spent on court facilities remodeling, that is the issue.

We sued the Glenn County Superior Court Administration twice before and have been forced to sue again to find out just how much public money is being spent on decorating.

Like the rest of the state, California’s courts are broke, or say they are. And despite the fact that this court’s expenditures are supposed to be open and available for all, they remain mostly hidden.

Last year, after a long struggle and finally filing suit, THE MIRROR obtained spending records for the remodeling of Judge Peter Twede’s 14-foot by 14-foot office, complete with remote controlled blinds. The tally was $25,000. The courts paid our attorney’s fees and eventually, slowly, revealed much of the cost.

But we were aware of other extensive spending and wanted to know what it came to.

From the lawsuit, this is what we want now:

“1. On or about July 27, 2009, Petitioner delivered a written request for records (attached hereto as Exhibit 1) which requested ‘… copies of all records evidencing or in any way relating to work performed by Paula Carli in the last 12 months paid for in whole or in part with any public money, including but not limited to funds controlled by the Glenn County Superior Court. This Request includes, but is not limited to, any description of the scope of work requested and/or actually performed by Paula Carli.’”

“2. On or about July 27, 2009, Petitioner delivered a second request for records to Respondent (attached hereto as Exhibit 2) that requested: ‘… all records evidencing or in any way relating to expenditures  connected to the renting, leasing, furnishing, decorating, remodeling [and] any other spending in connection with 199 North Butte Street, Willows. This request includes documentation of any spending in part or in whole with any public money, including but not limited to funds controlled by the Glenn County Superior Court.’”

Ms. Carli is a friend of former Court CEO Tina Burkhart.

Our letters requesting this information — which all citizens are entitled to — were signed for.

Recently, our lawyer, Paul Nicholas Boylan, of Davis, called to ask the court administration’s attorney, James E. Boddy, Jr., why the court administration had not responded.

He called and then said the court received no such letters.

Alas, we had them signed for. We heard nothing more.

On Tuesday, Mr. Boylan filed for the a writ of mandate for the records. And on Friday Mr. Boddy called to arrange for releasing the records.

Mr. Boylan notes:

“The Mirror’s action last year for court spending records bore unexpected fruit. Prior to that lawsuit, courts often hid the details of their spending because they believed they were exempt from the Public Records Act. But when (Appellate Court) Justice Betty Dawson ruled in our favor and ordered the court to turn over the Orland Court remodel records, she was the first appellate court judge to rule that the Public Records Act also applies to superior courts.

“This was big news. The California legislature learned about Judge Dawson’s decision, and passed a new law that expressly applied the principles of the Public Records Act to courts and directed the Judicial Counsel to create a new Rule of Court that would require greater public access to court spending records.

“The Mirror’s new lawsuit brings the process full circle. It is the very first action in California that will be decided under new law the Mirror’s first action engendered.

“I’ve accomplished, been part of, some impressive, even important achievements in my legal career, but nothing quite like this.”

At the Mirror, we are gratified that progress is being made. We just think it is a shame we have to sue for public records.