Sunday, April 13, 2014

Truth in the Courts

In my other post today, I discuss the efforts of a community member to get a copy of Ken Moore's declaration in part of the recent court battles.  BCS thwarted that effort by seeking and obtaining a protective order to prohibit LASD from providing a copy of that deposition to the community member who sought it.  This post examines an important "story within the story" around that process.

In the recent battle over Ken Moore's deposition, BCS filed a request for a protective order to prevent LASD from delivering a copy of what we consider to be a public record* over to a member of the public who had requested that record.

In their argument to obtain the protective order, BCS started by suggesting that Ken Moore was concerned for his safety.  In his sworn declaration to the courts, he tells the court that he is afraid of kidnapping.  "One of the most significant ways I deal with the potentials threats has been to maintain as low visibility as I reasonably can. In that regard, I do not use Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, or the the like.  I do not allow my place of employment, nor the boards that I am associated with, to post any photographic or other images of me".   Yet at the time of the hearing, he was personally featured in a promotional video on the front of the BCS web site.  He's identified by name, so there can be no doubt who he is.  (You can view that video here if you'd like  Ken Moore appears around the 6:20 mark.)  He also has appeared in various other publications like the Silicon Valley Business Journal.  So this clearly wasn't true.  Yet it appears in Moore's sworn declaration to the courts.

I've done declarations, and I can understand if someone made a mistake.  This seems unlikely, though, given the examples listed above and others that I won't include here.  Ken's declaration goes on, though.

"In support of the above goal of maintaining low visibility, I have asked the local newspapers to feel free to quote me, but not to use my likeness.  In light of safety concerns and the simple fact that I am a parent volunteer, the local papers have honored my request".  This statement seems to suggest a pretty sophisticated discussion with the local media.  I'm not an expert on the press, but from what I do know, they tend to consider editorial control to be sacrosanct.

Given my surprise at this statement, I did what a good reporter would do- I investigated.  I contacted the Los Altos Town Crier, The Mountain View Voice, The Daily Post, and the San Jose Mercury News.  Each and every one of these papers denied ever having had such an arrangement in place, or even having knowledge of any such request.  In various ways most of them said the that the suggestion they would make such an agreement was preposterous.

I also asked Mr. Moore himself.  He acknowledged that he had no such agreement with the Town Crier, but refused to elaborate on any discussions with other media outlets.

I submit that these statements are not minor and they are not mistakes.  This was absolutely improper.  In the next paragraph of his declaration, Mr Moore says "I was raised in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills and have lived there for nearly 60 years.  I greatly value the ability to walk the streets, shops, and restaurants and not be recognized or harassed by charter school detractors."  So apparently we've moved from kidnapping to plain old privacy.  But it gets better...

In an ex parte hearing with Judge Lucas, the BCS lawyers confessed that they wanted to prevent copying of the deposition "[b]ecause we believe there could be misuse, embarrassment, [and] harassment [of] our parent volunteers"   Really?  That's what we're worried about?  That someone is going to poke fun of the BCS Board?

According to this declaration, Mr. Moore keeps his image off the internet and he has an agreement with the local press not to run his picture either.  In reality, his attorney confessed to the judge that the real issue was a desire to suppress someone else's free speech, but she didn't correct anything in Moore's sworn statement.

Why do I care about this?  These are just minor details, aren't they?

Folks, this situation is difficult.  We are wrestling with issues of huge importance- literally, matters of Constitutional law, and issues that will shape the future of public education in our state for possibly decades to come.  If participants to these discussions feel that it's ok to invent "facts" to place before the court, we will *never* have any peace.  The community member who sought the video of the deposition lost his request.  I believe that the court was swayed by the declaration Mr. Moore provided.  That BCS was able to submit a false declaration to protect themselves from parody- that isn't how justice is supposed to work. As long as this is how we pursue this issue in the courts, without an honest airing of the facts, I fear that this issue will never be resolved.

*California law has a presumption that public records should be disclosed, unless there are extenuating circumstances.  I will concede that the statue around disclosure of depositions does include an exception for "embarrassment".  To my understanding that is meant to protect ordinary citizens if they need to file a suit involving medical malpractice, or a victim of a sexual assault.  I don't believe it was meant to protect people who are spending taxpayer funds to sue a public school district.  In this case, we're weighing "embarrassment" with the ability of citizens to understand how their government is functioning.