Tribune and Lucia Mar battle over legal fees in public records case

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

The Lucia Mar Unified School District and The Tribune remain locked in a legal battle over the disputed handling of a now-fulfilled public records request, with each side seeking a six-figure sum as reimbursement for legal fees. [Tribune]

In a San Luis Obispo Superior Court case, The Tribune is seeking an award of more than $120,000 in legal fees. The newspaper filed a lawsuit against the school district for not releasing documents The Tribune demanded under the California Public Records Act.

Lucia Mar is seeking reimbursement for approximately $209,783 in legal fees. The district, which ultimately released the documents after the filing of the lawsuit and nearly a year after the initial request, argues The Tribune filed a frivolous suit, which could extract funding that would otherwise go to classrooms.

The case surrounds a public record request pertaining to former Nipomo High School girls’ wrestling coach Justin Magdaleno, who was accused of sexually harassing and inappropriately touching members of his team.

Despite a sheriff’s office recommendation to file charges, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office opted not to prosecute Magdaleno. Still, the coach’s actions are the subject of several lawsuits, including one filed by renowned feminist lawyer Gloria Allred.

On Oct. 26, 2017, a Tribune reporter submitted a request for disciplinary records pertaining to Magdaleno. The district responded about a week later saying it was investigating complaints of misconduct.

Months reportedly passed without The Tribune receiving any of the records it requested.

On April 5, 2018, the Tribune reporter submitted a second record request, asking for communications between district officials about Magdaleno.

Then on May 21, the district responded by releasing a large number of internal emails. But, the district said it was still conducting an investigation and refused to release records related to complaints against Magdaleno.

On Sept. 14, 2018, a few weeks after its legal counsel issued a demand, The Tribune filed a lawsuit against Lucia Mar.

The lawsuit reportedly prompted the district to finally turn over the records, nearly one year after The Tribune initially requested them.

On Sept. 24, 2018, the district turned over its investigative report, as well as Magdaleno’s disciplinary records. Over the course of a year, the district provided about 1,500 pages of records and email communications.

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