Saturday, March 27, 2021

Major victory over a corporate charter school chain and their trade association

Indeed, “corporate charter schools—which bear attributes of both public and private enterprises” (101 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. 92, at 6) have long resisted efforts to make them more transparent and accountable to the public from which they draw their funding. Corporate charters schools, and their aggressive trade association, the California Charter Schools Association (“CCSA”), vehemently opposed application of the Brown Act, CPRA, and conflicts of interest laws to charter school corporations. Likewise, as Respondent admits in their pleadings, they opposed AB 1505. Oppo. 12:20.

 Adapted from my Twitter thread.

ON Tuesday, March 23, 2021 I got my second big win in court against a charter school corporation. It was also a major victory over their Califonria Charter Schools Association (“CCSA”) trade association, which tried to use this case to carve out immunity to the California Public Records Act (“CPRA”). I represented @DotKohlhaas in this action.

Here was my tweet from the day before, after skimming through the tentative:

My first win against a corporate charter school was a year ago as third chair in a suit to overturn a wrongful expulsion of a student of color. The Partnerships to Uplift Communities (“PUC”) charter chain (of convicted felon Ref Rodriguez fame) violated that student’s due process rights. Violated isn’t a strong enough word for what they did. PUC unilaterally changed the charges at the appeals hearing and branded the child as a terrorist in his permanent record. Under the tutelage of the brilliant partners at the law firm I was a part-timer at the time (I am currently transitioning to full time there), plus sage advice from @DrPrestonGreen, we built a strong case.

It was my argument that the charter corporation never proved specific intent — a crucial element to Ed. Code § 48900.7, as well as PUC’s glaring lack of notice afforded to the student, that saw the court overturn the wrongful expulsion and give the student their life back.

This latest case was a charter trying to hide all its dirty secrets by not complying with the CPRA. The scandal-ridden The Accelerated Schools (“TAS”) charter chain’s leaders absconded when the community started pushing back and started asking questions about union busting.

Michael Kohlhaas dot org sent sent TAS several CPRA requests in 2018, which they ignored (unlawfully). A year later, I filed the petition for writ of mandate for them. Some ten months later TAS sent some records, but claimed “blanket exemptions” on a bunch of other ones.

The good folks at Michael Kohlhaas dot org documented the part when it was decided to continue with the litigation. This was for Hilda, an amazing educator, and all the other people wronged by TAS/CCSA.

An infamous law firm that only represents lucrative, privately managed charter school corporations staked out the position that any communications with the charter school industry’s trade association — the CCSA — was subject to a range of exemptions under the CPRA.

I suppose I can’t blame them. The charter industry — long used to unaccountably spending tax dollars in total secrecy — fought tooth and nail the imposition of the CPRA and Brown Act added by Ed. Code § 47604.1(b)(2)(A). When the law took effect January 2020, charter school corporations were already looking for ways to skirt the law. At the firm I’m a junior associate at, we use the CPRA for pre-discovery work against charter corporations. Michael Kohlhaas dot org, on the other hand, has used it to expose some of the ugliest, scandalous conduct by an industry already infamous for scandal. Uncovering the vile Nick Melvoin’s sharing Los Angeles Unified School District’s (“LAUSD”) confidential legal strategies with their party-opponent in a lawsuit (the CCSA) was a blockbuster revelation enabled by the CPRA.

Of course, when you start using the sunshine laws on one of the darkest and vilest industries hatched out of the neoliberal project, you’re going to expose a lot of charter school scandals. There’s so many documented here:

Back to TAS claiming blanket exemptions. When I tried to explain the law to them, they responded: “The claim based on your legal analysis that these exemptions do not apply to the records withheld in this matter is incorrect.”

I was a little nervous going into this, but got a great deal of advice from three National Lawyers Guild attorneys who have also represented Michael Kohlhaas dot org in the past like the incomparable Matthew Strugar, Colleen Flynn, and Abenicio Cisneros. The two former helped me with procedural questions and sample pleadings. The latter provided me argument strategies for my reply brief and gave me the best authority to cite on exemptions (Golden Door Properties, LLC v. Superior Ct. of San Diego Cty., 53 Cal. App. 5th 733, 267 Cal. Rptr. 3d 32, 64 (2020), as modified on denial of reh’g (Aug. 25, 2020))(“Golden Door”). How on point was that case? The Court cited that same case three times in their minute order.

We had already prevailed since the lawsuit caused TAS to produce some records last October, but the dispute over the blanket CCSA exemptions was a proxy political battle. TAS surprisingly claimed exemptions on emails that Michael Kohlhaas dot org had obtained via CPRA from other charter school corporations that had followed the law. Weird hill to die on, but this was the CCSA trying to establish blanket exemptions. The Court ruled that every one of those emails was not exempt! A major win for us.

Also, because we caught TAS in (several) obvious lies, including one where they claimed in one pleading that only a small percentage of documents had been exempted, and then had a high-paid TAS executive claim in their sworn declaration that there were “hundreds of thousands” of records exempted. We pointed out that inconsistency, which led to the court granting our request for a privilege log. Better still, the court used Golden Door to order TAS to produce declarations for each record they claim exempt. While we didn’t get everything we put in our prayer, this was a major victory — especially in regards to the claims for blanket exemptions from the CCSA. I’m sure this isn’t the last time they’ll try this strategy, but at least we can share how to argue against it.

The final disposition will be decided in the summer, but TAS having to produce privilege logs supported by sworn declarations totally justified us continuing to litigate after the settlement offer. Let the corporate charter school industry know that they aren’t going to be able to hide their dark secrets anymore. Here’s a few excerpts from my briefs that probably didn’t sit well with the corporate charter school industry, their CCSA trade association, and their hired mercenaries. ¡La lucha continua!

Lastly, huge shout-out to Michael Kohlhaas dot org. They’re doing the lord’s work. From exposing self-dealing by tax payer funded Business Improvement Districts (“BIDs”), to uncovering some extremely disturbing activities by the Los Angeles Police Department (“LAPD”), to putting the lucrative, corporate charter school industry on notice that the sunshine laws are coming for them, to using the CPRA to protect the most vulnerable in our communities, as like I always say: “not all heroes wear capes.”


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