This post was updated March 28 at 2:11 p.m.
A nonpartisan free speech organization filed a lawsuit Wednesday against UCLA because the university did not comply with a public records request filed last year in a timely manner.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education filed a public records request to UCLA in March 2018, but the university has extended the deadline to release the requested records five times, said Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon, FIRE’s director of litigation. The most recent estimated date of release was set at April 30, over a year since the initial request.
According to the California Public Records Act, state and local agencies – including UCLA – are legally required to make documents regarding business, administration and communication available upon request. There are exceptions to the law that prevent the release of private information, such as identification numbers and sensitive research.
The original request was made after Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin spoke on campus in February of last year. UCLA did not initially release the video of the speaking engagement with Mnuchin, saying it did not have permission from Mnuchin’s office to do so yet.
This prompted FIRE to file a public records request asking the university to release the video of the speaking engagement, as well as documents regarding the agreement between Mnuchin and UCLA for his speaking engagement on campus, and any communication between Mnuchin or his office and UCLA about the release of the video, Beck-Coon said.
UCLA released the video of the speaking engagement to the public a few days after the event. UCLA first gave FIRE on March 26 as an estimated date of release for the remaining records. On that date, UCLA gave a new estimated deadline, saying the university needed additional time to compile and review the requested documents before release.
Ricardo Vazquez, a UCLA spokesperson, said UCLA is aware of the lawsuit and is reviewing the allegations.
In December 2018, FIRE contacted Robert Baldridge, the manager of public records at UCLA, regarding the request.
“We reminded them of their obligation to produce records promptly, we reminded them of the history of our communication, and we said we don’t think they are fulfilling obligation to produce records promptly,” Beck-Coon said.
Baldridge or UCLA did not respond to this contact, Beck-Coon said.
Beck-Coon said FIRE filed the lawsuit not only to obtain the requested records but to make their expectations clear to UCLA as well.
“Our goal is to get the records that we requested and to make the point to both UCLA and schools across the country who we may request records from in the future that we are going to take the steps necessary to enforce our right to receive public records,” Beck-Coon said.
If the lawsuit is successful, UCLA will have to produce the records or show cause for why they cannot produce the records.