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Morning Report: The Year San Diego Unified Rejected Transparency

A prominent environmental attorney is admonished in court, labor leader Mickey Kasparian may be under criminal investigation, and more.

The campus of La Jolla High School. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

Last year, San Diego Unified School District announced a record-setting 92 percent of its students were on track to graduate. In 2017, we set out to understand exactly how that feat was accomplished, and it was in the course of that coverage that the district set itself apart as an agency overtly hostile to public transparency.

Request after request for documents, seeking information as mundane as basic staffing data or as specific as emails relating to budget shortfalls, have either gone unanswered by the district or have languished for hundreds of days before concluding. “Such obfuscation isn’t just a problem for reporters. It also leaves parents across the district wanting for information about their schools and children,” Mario Koran writes.

The result of the district’s opposition to transparency is perhaps most clear in the case of a former La Jolla High teacher accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with students. For years the district told VOSD that student complaints and other documents related to the investigation did not exist. But we found out that wasn’t true, and the district now says that, while their search for documents in the matter was too narrow, they had “complied with public records laws.”

Employees within the district fear retaliation if they try to behave transparently. “Principals are scared that if they speak out, they’ll get demoted,” one former principal told us.

Our Best In Photos and Podcasts

We told a lot of stories in 2017, but writing wasn’t the only way we presented them. Many of our region’s most important stories were also captured in photographs, like the story of President Donald Trump’s attempt to build additional border walls, or the story of the many attempts to regulate San Diego’s short-term rental market.

The other fun way we told this year’s stories was through a variety of podcasts. Many readers also listen to our main podcast and they especially enjoyed our annual Beef Week show, where we get into San Diego’s civic tensions and the people who are behind them. But our sibling podcasts I Made It In San Diego and Good Schools For All also produce unique stories, such as an interview with the straight-talking empress of Jazzercise, and a peek behind the curtain of the massive scandal that enveloped the Sweetwater Union High School District years ago.

Attorney Briggs Admonished By Appeals Court

A lawsuit filed by local environmental attorney Cory Briggs against Wal-Mart has ended in precedent-setting sanctions against him. inewsource’s Brad Racino reports that “the admonishment arose after CREED-21, the nonprofit Briggs was representing in court, ‘willfully failed to obey’ two court orders to produce one of its members.”

The result of the case is significant due to the way lawsuits filed by Briggs are often structured. “Some of Briggs’ most litigious clients are nonprofits created and controlled almost entirely by his firm,” Racino reports, and in many cases those clients are organizations who list Briggs himself or Briggs’ associates as their leaders. In the CREED-21 case, the court ordered Briggs to produce an actual person he was representing, and Briggs was unable to comply, inewsource writes.

We previously explained how suing Wal-Mart is one of the main ways Briggs makes a living.

Lawyer Says Kasparian Faces Criminal Investigation

In a court hearing related to lawsuits against Mickey Kasparian, a lawyer for three female accusers told the judge that the labor leader is now under criminal investigation following allegations of sexual misconduct. Attorney Manuel Corrales Jr. said a deposition of one of his clients “has prompted an investigation by the District Attorney’s Office,” Times Of San Diego’s Ken Stone reports. Kasparian denies the allegations and that any such criminal investigation exists.

The hearing also resulted in the judge barring parties on either side of the case from sending copies of sworn testimony to third parties, including the media, the Union-Tribune reports.

Lightning Round

The total number of hepatitis A cases in San Diego has ticked up slightly. (Union-Tribune)

Permitted recreational cannabis arrives in California on Monday and shops are going live with “Live music, free T-shirts, a ‘fweedom’ celebration with mystery prize boxes worth up to $500,” and other hoopla. (CBS 8)

The first round of four-year degrees awarded by community colleges in San Diego is on track for next year. (KPBS)

Scripps Research scientists have finally gotten a look at an important protein in humans that is frequently targeted by many kinds of medications. (KPBS)

Dave Cramer has worked at the Union-Tribune for 47 years and will retire on Sunday.

Changes in the federal tax code have Californians lining up to pay their taxes far ahead of time, even though the IRS warns such pre-payments may not be deductible. (KPBS)

New restrictions on how ammunition is sold and transported in California go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018. (NBC 7)

CityBeat trips down memory lane with a timeline of all the “seriousness, silliness, and stupidity of 2017“.

Seth Hall is a local writer and technologist. You can email him at voice@s3th.com or follow him on Twitter: @loteck.

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