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Cal State fights release of documents on Palin speech

University seeks dismissal of suit, saying that appearance by former Alaska governor was arranged through a private foundation. Critics charge that foundation and university have comingled roles.

May 24, 2010|By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times

The California State University sought dismissal Monday of a lawsuit seeking documents related to a campus fundraising appearance by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, arguing that it has already released more than 3,000 records about the controversial event.

The request was in response to a lawsuit filed last month against Cal State Stanislaus and its private foundation by the nonprofit government watchdog group Californians Aware.

The lawsuit alleges that campus officials who are state employees are violating the California Public Records Act by withholding documents related to Palin's June 25 appearance at the university's 50th anniversary gala. The group and other open-government advocates have been seeking details of Palin's contract, including her speaking fee.

University officials argue that the event is being hosted by the Cal State Stanislaus Foundation, a private, nonprofit entity that is not subject to the Public Records Act. The foundation has said that no public funds are being used for the event. Palin's contract also includes a confidentiality clause, they said.

In papers filed Monday in Stanislaus County Superior Court, Cal State acknowledged that campus President Hamid Shirvani, Vice President of Advancement Susana Gajic-Bruyea and Business and Finance Vice President Russ Giambelluca are also officers of the foundation. But the three are under no obligation to disclose information obtained while acting as foundation officers, Cal State argues.

"If they are wearing their foundation hat, as long as the records they're using have not also been used in their university role, those records stay separate," said Cal State General Counsel Dawn S. Theodora.

Theodora said Palin's contract is a foundation record and thus not subject to the public records request.

Cal State has released thousands of other internal records, mostly e-mail exchanges dealing with media inquiries and letters from alumni weighing in on the Palin invitation.

Kelly Aviles, the attorney for Californians Aware, said the group will not drop its lawsuit.

"Everything the foundation and university has done has comingled them together," Aviles said. "The contract would show one of the biggest expenditures for this event and we know this document exists."

As evidence of the university's involvement, critics cite a March 31 e-mail exchange in the released documents between Cal State Chancellor Charles Reed and the president of the speakers group that represents Palin.

"The release of the fee, while well-intentioned to share all details, will likely only serve as the financial headline to a new round of stories rather than the intended purpose of clearing the air and making the stories go away. Your event needs fewer story lines, less oxygen for the fuel, not more," wrote Bernie Swain, chairman of the Washington Speakers Bureau.

Reed agreed, responding in part, that "the damage is done and the disclosure will just cause another round of newspaper stories."

Cal State defended Reed, saying that he supports transparency and initiated the conversation to request waiving the nondisclosure clause.

"The chancellor has been put in an extremely awkward position because he tried to use his influence to release the information and they refused," Theodora said. "His help was misconstrued."

carla.rivera@latimes.com

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