Politics & Government

California school says it doesn't have contract for Palin speech

TURLOCK, Calif. — California State University, Stanislaus, said Thursday it cannot comply with a court order requesting Sarah Palin's contract for a June speech because it doesn't have the document.

California State University general counsel Dawn Theodora said the contract belongs to the CSU Stanislaus Foundation, the nonprofit that handled the negotiations for the former Alaska governor's speech at the Turlock campus.

Theodora said she was perplexed by Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne's ruling Monday ordering the school to hand over the contract along with other documents related to Palin's June 25 fund-raiser appearance.

"We're faced with an order to turn over a document we don't have. We've never had it," Theodora said. "We're going to have to ask the foundation if they will release contract to the court and then release it to the public."

The university does not plan to appeal the ruling, Theodora said.

An official with the open-government group Californians Aware, which filed a lawsuit in April accusing the university of violating its disclosure obligations under the California Public Records Act, said Theodara's statement was hard to square with the fact that a partial copy of the contact showed up in a dumpster from the recycling bin in a CSU, Stanislaus, office.

"At this point, assuming the university does not want to aggravate its situation, we will take this response as a face-saving statement rather than a signal that it means to persist in denying access," said Terry Franke, CalAware's general counsel.

CalAware will be filing paperwork with the court in the next week or so to collect court costs and attorney fees from CSU, Stanislaus. In his Monday ruling, Beauchesne awarded CalAware attorney fees and court costs.

Franke said CalAware still is tallying those costs but he expects them to be in the tens of thousands of dollars and would not come close to six figures.

In July, the foundation revealed it had paid Palin $75,000 in private donation money for her 40-minute speech.

The university has said all negotiations surrounding the event fell to its foundation, which is not subject to the same public records requirements that apply to California's higher education institutions.

In his ruling, Beauchesne did not dispute that claim, citing a 2001 state appeals court decision that university foundations and auxiliary organizations are not beholden to the California Public Records Act.

The judge, however, said CSU's use of the contract made it part of the public record and subject to disclosure. He did not specify what he meant by "use."

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