Judge orders Cal State Stanislaus to release documents related to Palin’s visit

A California university violated the state’s open records law when it refused to release the contract and other documents related to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s fundraising appearance in June, a judge has ruled.

Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Roger M. Beauchesne ordered Cal State Stanislaus officials to release the contract as well as other documents related to the use of university facilities, personnel and services surrounding the June 25 fundraising gala.

Cal State Stanislaus and a foundation affiliated with the campus were sued in April after failing to disclose details of Palin’s contract, including her speaking fee. Officials argued that the nonprofit foundation that hosted the former Republican vice presidential candidate was not subject to the state’s Public Records Act.

They also argued that the contract with the Washington Speaker’s Bureau, which represents Palin, was confidential.

Beauchesne agreed that the foundation was not subject to the open records law. But he found that the university failed to follow correct procedures and that Cal State Chancellor Charles B. Reed “used” the contract to the university’s advantage.

“The reasonable inference from the evidence produced is that the university, in its official capacity, has ‘used’ the contract between the Washington Speaker’s Bureau in the conduct of the public’s business; therefore, said contract is also a public record and should have been produced to petitioner,” Beauchesne wrote in the opinion filed Monday.

After the suit was filed, the university released hundreds of documents, mostly e-mails, relating to Palin’s appearance, but not her contract. In one of the e-mails, Reed addressed the controversy over Palin’s fee with an official from the speaker’s bureau.

In July, the foundation confirmed that it had paid Palin $75,000 for her appearance.

Attorneys for Californians Aware, the government watchdog group that filed the lawsuit, issued a statement saying they were pleased with the decision.

“This ruling upholds California’s citizens’ right to maintain oversight and control of their government.... We are hopeful that this will prompt CSU to reevaluate the way in which it handles public records requests,” the group said.

California State University spokeswoman Claudia Keith said officials had not had time to study the ruling.

“We just received a copy and we find the judge’s ruling perplexing,” Keith said. “But of course, we will comply with anything the judge’s order stipulates.”