The Triton’s Managing Editor Sues the UC Alleging Violation of State Public Records Law

Mo Al Elew / The Triton

The Triton’s Managing Editor Ethan Edward Coston filed a lawsuit on April 10 against the University of California (UC) Regents for allegedly failing to comply with the California Public Records Act (CPRA) by denying requests for documents related to a Title IX sexual misconduct investigation.

Coston sent three requests for documents in his investigation of whether former UC San Diego (UCSD) Bookstore Operations Manager Alan Labotski violated campus sexual misconduct rules under Title IX.

The CPRA is state law that requires all government records to be made available to the public unless there is a specific reason to withhold such information, such as records protected by FERPA or HIPAA.

The UCSD Policy & Records Administration Office refused to confirm or deny the existence of requested records despite multiple requests. The office stated that releasing the information would be an invasion of privacy for non-high level public officials, even if the misconduct claim is substantiated.

“[D]isclosure of a respondent employee’s identity would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” said UCSD Policy & Records Director Paula Johnson.

The UC system has previously completed requests for Title IX records, resulting in sexual misconduct reports published by UC student news sources regarding cases at UCSD, UCLA, and UC Santa Cruz.

“[I]n my experience system-wide the University does not allocate sufficient resources to responding to CPRA requests,” said Abenicio Cisneros, Coston’s lawyer. “As a result responses to CPRA requests are unlawfully delayed, inadequate searches are conducted, and campuses overclaim exemptions, which results in records being wrongfully withheld.”

Coston replied to the request denial on November 13, 2018, informing UCSD that he had separately confirmed the existence of the investigation and would pursue legal action if UCSD continued to withhold the documents. The following day, UCSD responded to Coston’s request for emails related to the investigation, saying that in its search, they found no related records.

UCSD has not confirmed or denied whether the investigation records exist or whether they are being withheld under an exemption to disclosure.

“[UCSD] stated that no responsive records exist, meaning that it might be withholding existing records as exempt.” said Cisneros. “Although the University refuses to either confirm or deny that it is withholding responsive records, we are confident responsive records are being withheld and hope the University produces those records promptly in response to this lawsuit.”

Coston alleges the records he requested do exist and are public records that are not covered by any exemptions from the CPRA. Cisneros did not want to speculate why the university may be withholding the records but believes, regardless of the motives, UCSD is breaking the law.

“When an agency withholds records, it can be for a variety of reasons: a desire to keep something secret, an incorrect but sincerely held interpretation of what the law requires, or simple neglect,” said Cisneros. “But the result is the same: unlawful governmental secrecy.”

The Triton reached out to both UCSD Campus Counsel and the Records Office and did not get a response before publishing. The UCSD Communications Office thanked our reporter for reaching out for comment but said they were not interested.

Mo Al Elew is a Senior Staff Writer for The Triton.

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the acronym HIPAA as HIPPA. We apologize for this error.