Thursday, August 02, 2007

Burlington FOI Discussion,

Amended Request
& Complaint #1.

P.O. Box 1415 Litchfield, CT 06759
Cellular 860-690-0211 * Fax- 860-567-9119

Connecticut Magazine

Thurs., 8-2-07

Paula Schwartz, Superintendent
Regional School District #10
24 Lyon Rd.
Burlington, CT 06013

(860) 673-2538 ext. 2; Fax:(860) 675-4976
by fax, e-mail and regular mail

Burlington FOI Discussion, Amended Request & Complaint #1.

Dear Ms. Schwartz:

This letter follows my FOI request and phone calls yesterday, your voicemail to me yesterday and a letter from your school district's lawyer yesterday.

You stated, in the voicemail: "Your request will be processed in due, in due time, within our, uh reasonableness. You can't expect us to put it all together, uh, within the hour of your call. We will do it in a timely manner, OK? If you need to speak with me, you can certainly call me back."

I did call back. Your colleague said you were in a meeting and would be free to call me back shortly. I asked your colleague to thank you for calling me back.

I did not hear from you again, but I did get a fax from your district's lawyer, Christine Chinni.

Based on your lawyer's letter, it appears the silver lining for you and taxpayers in this story might be your chance to cite ineffective assistance as this case and related cases proceed.

For the record, consider this letter an affirmation of my written request yesterday. I still want all the documents I requested promptly, in compliance with FOI law. In addition, I will be seeking a few other items specified below.

It appears that neither you nor your esteemed "counsel" have given this matter much thought, never mind careful consideration.

Here is part of what Chinni wrote to me:

First, the board does not possess any "billing records related to legal work that has been farmed out to the firm Howd & Ludorf and / or [this firm] regarding alleged civil rights violations by [Mrs. Schwartz] and [her] administration against students including Avery Doninger." The Board does not possess a retainer agreement, indemnification clause retainer check or any other check or invoice from either firm regarding any alleged violations of any student's civil rights. Therefore, the Board will not be providing any such documents.

For the sake of your lawyer, in particular her ability to grasp the basic facts and the gravity of the situation, I will note a few key developments:

" 1. - You and Lewis Mills High School Principal Karissa Niehoff were named on July 16, 2007 as defendants in a civil rights lawsuit. You were accused of punishing student Avery Doninger for engaging in constitutionally-protected activity, including trying to involve the community in securing a venue for a concert.

" 2. - Chinni and attorneys Thomas Gerarde and Katherine Rule of Howd & Ludorf subsequently filed a motion to move this case from state to federal court. There is a conference call scheduled with a federal judge on Monday.

Let's suppose for a moment, that attorneys Chinni, Gerarde and Rule are all very kind to pets and nice to their friends. That being said, they probably do not work for free or for love. They probably do not work without some kind of agreement or memo of understanding.

When a public agency pays a law firm, or agrees to pay a law firm, documents are involved. These are public records. These include but are not limited to purchase orders, checks, retainer agreements, indemnification clauses, etc. Maybe these are unusual lawyers who spend little time preparing motions or getting ready to meet with a federal judge. Maybe they do it on good faith, a wink and a nod, or a handshake.

For the record, as a taxpayer and as a citizen and as a writer, I do not take kindly to public officials or their stooge lawyers jerking me around when I seek public records. The law does not allow you to do this.

Additionally, it seems clear that your lawyer's failure to be forthright and to be completely truthful violates her own Rules of Professional Conduct (8.4, 8.5, 4.1, 4.3). I do not contemplate any action with the Statewide Grievance Committee at this time. However, I would appreciate better cooperation going forward.

I can understand that you, your colleagues and lawyers might not be comfortable with provisions of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act. The act demands accountability and responsiveness. It does not say, "I'll pretend documents do not exist, I'll stonewall giving them out, I'll abuse the attorney-client privilege with massive, time-delaying and inappropriate redactions that will likely be reviewed and overturned by the FOI Commission … "

The FOI law demands that you turn over these records promptly.

If in fact you have documents that are covered partially or fully by attorney-client privilege, I request that you turn them over to the FOI Commission for an in-camera review. They have competent and ethical attorneys who will make the correct call, protecting the rights of all parties. Chinni is obviously not the appropriate person to handle this aspect of the case. Her judgments are certain to be reviewed.

In any case, a reasonable and competent person would not take more than an hour to finish this process, especially at this early stage of litigation.

In her letter to me yesterday, Chinni made an interesting admission. She said the board "does not posses [sic] any copies of the write-in votes for Ms. Doninger."

What happened to the scores of write-in votes cast for Ms. Doninger? There were perhaps more than 100 such votes. Did someone destroy these votes? Are they hidden in some secret location? Who made the decision on what should be done with these documents? What discussions took place regarding these actions?

Chinni's admission constitutes denial of a request for public records. Therefore, in a separate letter, I will be filing a formal complaint regarding this denial. For precedent, see FIC 2002-012, Thibault v. Zinn, in which a first selectman destroyed a memo regarding the placement of a Black Santa Claus at town hall. An investigation into destruction of a public record by the state police major crime squad followed, confirming the destruction of the document.

The status of the missing write-in votes is noteworthy in the context of the school system's purported teaching of citizenship. As I report on this story, I am compelled to consider what is really being taught. Is the school system fostering critical thinking, exploration and free expression? Or, rather, is this a tyrannical regime that suppresses and punishes those who question its practices? Is this a school system more comfortable with docility, compliance and regimentation than with openness, activism and creativity?

A graduate of Lewis Mills, writing after the lawsuit was filed, compared you and your administration - favorably to some extent - with Mugabe and Hitler regarding your handling of what might have been a free and open election:

"I merely suggest that she thinks about the company she will be joining the next time she oversteps her bounds and suppresses free speech," the graduate wrote in a blog posting.

Certainly there are records of who was on the ballot, who was taken off the ballot, who was solicited to run by the administration and who "won" various elections without factoring in the write-in votes. I request those records as well.

Finally, your lawyer cites what she characterizes as "the threatening tone of [my FOI request], and the allegation therein that records may have been destroyed, unnecessary, offensive and inappropriate."

Clearly, Chinni is a confused individual who might require some sort of neurological examination. In paragraph 4 she cites the missing write-in votes. Then, she admits they are missing and criticizes my citation of the law on record destruction. As to manners, somehow I cannot contemplate accepting charm school advice from someone who flouts the FOI law, is less than forthright and is offended when the application of the law is put before her. You might ask her to explain that particular paragraph.

Just how much is it costing Burlington and Harwinton taxpayers for the drivel emanating from your counsel? I would like to know. Therefore, please also provide any and all billing records from the firm Chinni & Meuser Jan. 1, 2007 to the present.

Again, this information - regarding alleged civil rights violations of students by you and your administration, as well as apparent attorney misconduct -- is vital to the public interest. Accordingly, I request a waiver of any and all fees. You may fax or mail the data to the contact information listed above.

Thank you very much.


Andy Thibault
Copies to state Freedom of Information Commission, Gov. Rell, Chief State's Attorney

1 comment:

a rose is a rose said...

i repeat, i would NOT cross you andy!

(p.s. thanks for the laughs too. poor ms chinni-yes, i almost feel sorry for her- was NO match for your mind, wit, knowledge base or intelligence)