Three administrators who worked together for years as high-ranking members in the Contra Costa Community College District filed a petition in court last week alleging the district violated the California Public Records Act in denying their requests for public documents.
The lawsuit against CCCCD filed jointly by Eugene "Gene" Huff, Diogenes "Dio" Shipp and Jonah Nicholas on Oct. 14 alleges in part that the district failed to produce documents regarding the findings of investigations into complaints of retaliation made separately by each man.
"The district has failed to provide documents that are clearly in the scope of the California Public Records Act," Gregory McCoy, one of the lawyers representing the three petitioners, told DanvilleSanRamon.com on Friday.
McCoy also said that the result of the lawsuit may lead to the release of public records that could shed more light as to why first-year Chancellor Bryan Reece was briefly put on administrative leave last month -- amid an internal investigation that is apparently ongoing into undisclosed personnel matters involving Reece.
Timothy Leong, spokesperson for CCCCD, was unavailable to comment on the new lawsuit as of noon Friday.
Huff, the district's executive vice chancellor for administrative services, who also served as interim chancellor during the 2020 recruitment process that culminated in Reece's hiring last November, has been on administrative leave since Aug. 12 for undisclosed reasons. Huff filed a claim against the district nearly three weeks earlier, which was denied by the Governing Board on Sept. 9.
Shipp, associate vice chancellor and human resources officer, has been on paid administrative leave since June 10 and has also filed a claim against the district that is still pending.
Nicholas, formerly associate vice chancellor and chief financial officer, left the district in fall 2020 for a position with the neighboring Chabot-Las Positas Community College District.
The public records lawsuit said all three men filed complaints of retaliation with CCCCD -- and in Huff's case, alleging discrimination too -- but the documentation from the ensuing investigations have not been released to Huff, Shipp and Nicholas.
"The investigation reports pertain directly to the petitioners' complaints regarding the actions of current and former elected members of the governing board of the district, and touch upon the role of the chancellor of the district in the investigation process," their petition stated.
According to the CPRA, anyone may enforce their rights to access public records by filing a petition when those records are denied. From there, a court decides whether the withheld records should be procured.
After all three petitioners filed complaints alleging retaliation from the Governing Board, following the non-renewal of their contracts earlier in 2020, they were interviewed by independent investigators assigned by the district to investigate their claims, according to their lawsuit.
The petition alleges that in the past, it was common practice for the district to make the findings of such investigations available to those who filed the complaints that initiated them. This was not the case when it came to the investigations spurred by Shipp, Huff, and Nicholas, according to their attorneys.
The petition argues that while the district did quote some portions of the investigations in their administrative determinations sustaining, partially sustaining or not sustaining the findings, the complainants are entitled to see the full investigation findings under the CPRA.
Nicholas submitted a CPRA request on July 27, which was denied by the district on Aug. 5. On Aug. 8, legal counsel on behalf of all three parties made a request for the findings of all three investigations, as well as the findings of an investigation into allegations against a faculty member, communications related to a Titan Group investigation into allegations against Reece, and documents related to any complaint filed against Reece by a union president. The district denied all of these requests.
"There are three categories of documents which are being sought under the CPRA by the petition," McCoy said. "The first is reports done by independent investigators who conducted investigations into complaints which. Mr. Shipp, Mr. Huff and Mr. Nicholas made."
McCoy noted that there is evidence that the district has these documents, given that they are quoted in the administrative determinations regarding the investigations.
"We question the characterizations and want to see the entire report, and that was the whole purpose of having an independent investigator review these complaints, so that's issue number one," McCoy said.
The second category of documents involve a CCCCD faculty member, who was alleged to have paid students to take his class and was the subject of an investigation that Reece has been accused of meddling with -- and cutting off.
"An investigation was started into that after a student came forward and said that was exactly what she had been asked to do, and for whatever reason the chancellor stopped the investigation into that," McCoy said, adding that one purpose of the petition was a desire to see the reasoning for that.
"We started an investigation at the district because of allegations that students made, so why did it stop," McCoy said. "That's in some ways the simplest of all, because I can't think of any basis on which complaints of that nature can be legally withheld."
Complaints about Reece's alleged involvement, as well as other allegations against the chancellor, make up the content of the third category of document the petitioners are seeking.
McCoy said that the court set a briefing schedule for the case on Thursday, which states the district has until Jan. 3 to respond to the position, and legal counsel for Shipp, Huff and Nicholas have until around Jan. 21 to respond. The hearing date is set for Jan. 28.
If the court rules in favor of the petition, the district would be required to provide the documents requested. McCoy said he hoped that this response could provide additional insight into upheaval at the district as well.
"There obviously is something going on with the chancellor that caused him to be put on leave for a period of time," McCoy said. "So we may get some insight into that on the basis of complaints that have been filed against the chancellor."