The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power was sued in Los Angeles Superior Court today for failing to release public documents as required by state law. The suit was filed by the San Diego County Water Authority to compel LADWP to comply with the California Public Records Act.
"LADWP has stonewalled all efforts to obtain public records leaving the Water Authority no choice but to go to court,” Kelly A. Aviles, one of the attorneys representing the Water Authority, said. “The Water Authority tried unsuccessfully for five months to obtain public documents that should have been made available in days.”
The California Constitution and Public Records Act require that public agencies promptly make available documents, emails, calendars and other records relating to the conduct of the public’s business.
On October 28, 2011, the Water Authority sent Public Records Act requests to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and several of its member agencies, including LADWP. The Water Authority wanted to learn more about the meetings of a group of MWD member agency managers believed to be meeting secretly and coordinating votes of the MWD board of directors.
Other MWD member agencies that responded to the Water Authority's request produced tens of thousands of pages of documents, including documents that evidenced the existence of a Secret Society that has been in place since 2009.
The lawsuit alleges that the records produced by other public agencies “paint a startling portrait of a shadow government with its hands on virtually every major important policy decision to be presented to the MWD Board, including the setting of MWD’s water rates and charges. Those documents also confirm that employees of LADWP played an especially active role in this MWD Member Agency Managers Working Group, the formal name for the Secret Society. LADWP frequently communicated with other members of the Secret Society and its paid consultants about the group’s activities.”
The records produced by other agencies also show that LADWP spent water ratepayer money to pay consultants and fund a clandestine economic study of the Water Authority's water rates and water transfer agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District.
“It appears that LADWP is illegally withholding hundreds, if not thousands of additional documents that are responsive to the Water Authority’s request related to the secret meetings and activities of the manager’s group,” Aviles said. “LADWP’s failure to produce any such documents, and any additional responsive documents it possesses, is a flagrant violation of the California Public Records Act.
“The Water Authority will move forward quickly to secure the earliest possible hearing date to obtain a court order compelling LADWP to release the public records at issue in this litigation,” Aviles said.
Aviles’ legal practice specializes in the requirements of the California Public Records Act and the Ralph M. Brown Act. She often serves as litigation counsel to Californians Aware, a nonprofit organization established to help the public understand what they need to know in order to hold government and other powerful institutions accountable for their actions. In addition to Aviles, the Water Authority is also represented in this matter by Dennis A. Winston, an attorney who also specializes in litigation involving open meetings, public records and the First Amendment. Winston is also the current president of Californians Aware.
To read the court documents, visit www.sdcwa.org/sites/default/files/files/petition-for-writ-of-mandate-with-exhibits-2012-0404.pdf.
To view the documents received from the other MWD member agencies, visit www.mwdfacts.com.