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This Race Is Not by the Book

Election: Transcript of Walnut council candidate, a high school senior, is mistakenly released.


Jim Brannan says he was just a concerned citizen doing research on a candidate running for the Walnut City Council, in this case an 18-year-old high school senior.

The student, Robert Lung, says that Brannan, a supporter of two other candidates, was attempting to thwart Lung's campaign when he obtained a copy of the student's transcript.

Ken Gunn, the principal of Walnut High School, admits that the school made a mistake when an employee in the registrar's office gave Lung's transcript to Brannan without permission, in violation of state law.

It's all part of politics in Walnut, a city of 30,000 that will elect two candidates to the City Council on Tuesday from a group of seven contenders.

On Jan. 18, a week after the filing deadline for the City Council race, Brannan, 61, who calls himself a concerned citizen, went to Walnut High School looking for information about Lung.

Lung had qualified to run in the election a few days earlier, Brannan said, and he was curious about whether Lung had taken a civics class. "I wondered what that civics class would consist of," he said.

According to school officials, Elizabeth Lopez, a school employee, printed out a copy of Lung's transcript and gave it to him.

Gunn, who was out of the office at the time of the incident, said he found out about Lopez's actions after she alerted the vice principal to what she had done.

Gunn declined to say whether Lopez had been reprimanded, but did say he "had talked to everyone who has access to confidential records."

Lung--who said he is classified as a special education student but was mainstreamed long ago into regular classes--was not told about the breach until Jan. 26, when he was called out of an English class to meet with a vice principal and Gunn.

"They apologized and said they messed up," Lung said. Gunn attributed the delay in informing Lung to a combination of circumstances, including a three-day weekend, the fact that the school superintendent was ill, and a need to consult school lawyers.

"We wanted to make sure that we did everything from then on very correctly," Gunn said. "This is going to sound stupid in hindsight, but there was a question of whether we had to notify him or the parents."

State law limits access to a student's transcript, and because Lung is 18 and therefore considered an adult, even his parents cannot obtain his transcript without his permission.

His mother, Valerie Hill, called the delay in notifying her son inexcusable. She said that when the school, with Lung's permission, told her what had happened, she insisted upon filing a report with the local sheriff's station, which polices Walnut.

Brannan turned in the transcript, which was never published, to the sheriff's station as evidence.

The report was forwarded to the public integrity unit of the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, which declined to file charges.

"To allow someone to break the law and violate someone's civil rights is unacceptable," Hill said. "These people want to break the law for an 18-year-old kid."

"These people," she said, include Gunn and Brannan, both of whom are listed in campaign materials as supporters of one of Lung's opponents, Dan Marostica.

"There are too many connections," she said.


Rival Candidate Denies Connection to Incident

But when contacted Friday, Marostica denied any connection with the incident.

"I have absolutely nothing to do with this," he said. "Jim Brannan is the kind of person who you don't tell what to do; he does what he does for his own reasons.... There isn't any reason for me to be involved."

Brannan, a supporter of Marostica and of June Wentworth, another candidate, said that to make his actions into a political issue, as Lung has done, is "a bunch of hogwash."

Brannan said he did not become a member of the committee working for Marostica's election until after the transcript incident.

Lung, whose uncle, Frank Hill, was a state assemblyman, spent his recent spring break campaigning, walking Walnut neighborhoods door to door.

He said he is running for City Council partly because he feels that politics in his city need reform.

"There are problems going on that aren't getting dealt with," he said.


Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.

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