University of California officials say they will delay releasing public documents involving UC Davis and suspended Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi because they do not want to interfere with witness interviews being conducted as part of an investigation into Katehi.
The latest delay follows months of efforts by The Sacramento Bee to gain access to documents through requests under the California Public Records Act, documents that public access and legal experts say should be divulged despite the ongoing probe.
“The university’s concerns are not a legitimate legal basis for its wholesale denial of access to records concerning the underlying activities that led to Chancellor Katehi’s suspension,” said Thomas Burke, co-chair of the media law practice at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in San Francisco, who has been negotiating with UC officials on The Bee’s behalf. “The longer the university delays, the more suspicious the public will justifiably become about the university’s commitment to transparency and the law.”
UC general counsel Charles Robinson told Burke in an email Thursday night that university officials do not want to jeopardize the investigation being headed by former U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag into Katehi by releasing documents before Haag’s team completes its interviews.
“Melinda Haag, the independent investigator retained by the university to review certain issues regarding Chancellor Linda Katehi, which issues are the subject of the requests, has expressed concern that release of the requested records could affect the testimony of potential witnesses and/or otherwise compromise her investigation,” Robinson wrote. “For this reason, while we do intend to release documents to your client in response to the requests, we plan to delay such release for a brief period so that Ms. Haag can complete her interviews.
“We expect that the interviews will be complete and the documents released on or around July 1. We believe that such course of action is prudent and permissible under California Government Code Section 6255, as the public interest is better served by a brief delay in order to accommodate a fair and unbiased investigation of the events at issue, than by a sooner release of the documents.”
The university’s stance comes despite a declaration by Katehi spokesman Larry Kamer that the chancellor wants all the documents released and that Katehi has agreed to meet with Haag’s investigators in Sacramento by the end of June.
“It’s just a very frustrating situation that she would like to see clarified,” Kamer said Friday. “She does want the truth out. She’s willing to take her lumps from whatever criticisms an investigation may find, but at least give her a fair investigation.
“If it’s public information, it’s public information.”
The documents The Bee is seeking include contracts issued to consultants, emails, travel expenses for Katehi and other UC Davis officials and the complete text of a 2012 marketing study conducted by UC, all documents that typically are considered public. UC officials have released some documents in recent months, the latest a collection of contracts turned over June 3 that The Bee requested on March 25.
Since then, no other records have been released, and the university has not acknowledged three public records requests filed in recent days.
Katehi was suspended with pay April 27 by UC President Janet Napolitano following weeks of controversy over Katehi’s acceptance of seats on private corporate boards and UC Davis’ decision to spend at least $175,000 to clean up the online reputations of the university and Katehi herself.
Napolitano said in a two-page letter to Katehi that the chancellor would be investigated for allegations of nepotism, misuse of student funds and “material misstatements” to Napolitano and the media about her role in hiring the two firms UC Davis used to scrub the internet for negative references after the November 2011 pepper-spraying of students by campus police.
That letter and suspension came two days after Katehi met with Napolitano and the UC president’s chief of staff and was told to resign her post as chancellor, as well as her tenured faculty position, Kamer said.
UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein flatly denied Friday that Napolitano tried to get Katehi to resign her faculty post, saying Katehi “holds a tenured faculty position at UCD.”
Katehi has remained silent since then under what her attorney and spokesman say is a gag order from Napolitano while the investigation is conducted.
“I think Linda Katehi is trying to play this straight and allow herself to be investigated fairly, but the gag order is consistent with a number of heavy-handed tactics that we’ve called to their attention,” Kamer said, including the fact that it took three weeks for UC officials to produce Katehi’s personnel file for her team’s review.
Katehi attorney Melinda Guzman has criticized the selection of Haag and her law firm to conduct the investigation and has said she may file a lawsuit, if necessary, over Katehi’s removal from her post.
Both sides have accused the other of hindering the probe.
Klein said last week that Katehi had rebuffed 11 attempts by investigators to speak to the chancellor, something her spokesman denies.
“This claim by Ms. Klein about 11 delays, I don’t know where she got this number,” Kamer said.
Klein confirmed Katehi has agreed to meet with investigators.
“We have previously reached out to Linda Katehi and her representatives to schedule a meeting and it hasn’t resulted in anything,” Klein said. “However, we’re pleased to know that now there is something on the calendar at the end of the month.”
She added that “the investigation is proceeding on schedule and Linda Katehi and her representatives will have ample time to review the findings.”
Kamer said any delays in Katehi meeting with investigators were scheduling issues and questions about investigators wanting unfettered access to her cellphone and laptop, which he said would expose Katehi’s private emails, texts and phone call records to scrutiny.
“That’s very concerning to her as an individual, it’s concerning to her lawyer as a due process question and it’s concerning to the academic community,” Kamer said.
He added that UC officials have not responded to a 12-page grievance that Katehi’s lawyer sent May 26 challenging the suspension and accusing Napolitano of threatening to involve Katehi’s family in an investigation. The chancellor’s husband, son and daughter-in-law work at the university, and Katehi has repeatedly denied providing favored treatment to any of them.
“President Napolitano’s ruthless demands left Chancellor Katehi shocked and distraught,” Guzman wrote in the letter, which Kamer provided to The Bee and describes Katehi as suffering “loss of sleep, panic attacks and depression” over her suspension and “public defamation.”
Klein denied that claim, saying that “at no time did (President) Napolitano threaten Linda Katehi – about anything.”