Mutiny of the bounty-hunted, cont’d: Calif. schools

by Walter Olson on December 14, 2004

Under California law, if school districts do not comply with public records requests within a stated period, they can be liable for requesters’ legal fees. In July and early August, as many officials were leaving for vacation, various Bay Area districts received requests for “school board members’ statement of economic interest — a document that details an elected official’s investments”. When the statements were not forthcoming within the prescribed period, lawsuits promptly followed demanding legal fees. The requesting organization, which calls itself Nolex Group, turns out to be run by a lawyer and to have no immediately visible purpose other than filing the requests. The Emery Unified district settled for a reported $2,500, but others resisted, with one defendant’s lawyer calling the action a “holdup lawsuit” and another saying that “These guys are trying to line their pockets at the expense of schoolchildren.” After the local news media took an interest, Nolex, which appears to be based from the Walnut Creek home of attorney Scott Hammel (with help from attorney Byron Done), “said it planned to drop six suits it had filed against San Mateo County school districts.” Hammel has vehemently denied improper motivations. (Jahna Berry, “Calif. Schools Blast Records Request as ‘Holdup Lawsuit'”, The Recorder, Nov. 24; “Lawyers Target Schools For Easy Money”, KRON, Oct. 21; Ethan Fletcher, “Alleged shakedown suit dropped”, San Francisco Examiner, Dec. 7).