by Irvin Muchnick
The University of California’s appellate arguments in this reporter’s winning case for internal university documents shedding light on UC Berkeley’s cover-up of the circumstances of the 2014 death of Cal football player Ted Agu “would flip the protections and incentives of” the California Public Records Act “on their head,” two leading free press public interest groups wrote in a brief to the 1st District Court of Appeal.
In an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief filed on March 15 in Muchnick v. University of California Regents, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the First Amendment Coalition also said that in attempting “to foist attorneys’ fees upon Petitioner by arguing that the Petition was ‘frivolous,’ the Regents seek to chill members of the public, including journalists, from going to court to enforce their rights – a result that would harm the accountability of public institutions.”
The brief added that the university’s “broad characterization of the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act … as an all-encompassing privacy mandate is not only legally meritless, but also, if accepted, would hinder crucial investigative journalism by improperly shielding records of great public interest.”
Last year the lower Superior Court ruled in my favor on the basis of my lawsuit’s having catalyzed the production of more than 700 new pages of internal documents illuminating the Agu death cover-up story. By order of the court, the parties had negotiated a $125,000 reimbursement of my attorney Roy Gordet’s fees, before UC appealed. Concussion Inc. is being represented at the Court of Appeal by California appellate specialist John Derrick.
Created in 1970 and based in Washington, D.C., the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press provides pro bono legal representation, amicus curiae support, and other legal resources to protect First Amendment freedoms and the newsgathering rights of journalists. RCMP serves news organizations, reporters, editors, documentary filmmakers, media lawyers, and many more who use the group’s online resources at https://www.rcfp.org/.
Based in San Rafael, California, the First Amendment Coalition is an award-winning nonprofit dedicated to advancing free speech, open government, and public participation in civic affairs. For more information, see https://firstamendmentcoalition.org/.
The next post will have the full text of the amicus brief. A facsimile of the brief can be viewed at http://muchnick.net/muchnickamicusbrief.pdf.