The hearing was brought because the Petitioner was claiming that the City of Baldwin Park was violating the court order to release records, which Cook and Casas obtained in December 2014 from the court. Robert Tafoya, City Attorney, representing Baldwin Park claimed everything was released.
The court was satisfied that 9 out of 14 counts of the court order were being violated. The City now needs to prove within five business days it has released the records or release them.
The battle was a challenging one for the rookie attorney, Cook. Only being licensed for two years, he didn't know how to manage the challenge of a city - who kept producing incorrect records, who kept alleging records didn't exist, and who kept saying that records would be released and then not release them.
In February 2015, the court ordered Cook and Tafoya to meet and discuss what records were outstanding. Tafoya failed to appear to the meeting and claimed later that his son had an emergency.
The two parties finally met in March of 2015. The City agreed to release records. Then in April, it said that it needed more time. Cook filed a motion with the court that the City was violating the court order.
The City then said that all records were available, but in May of 2015, Cook discovered that nothing new was produced. The City has been stating since September of 2013 that records are available. Two years later, records have not been produced.
The first time Cook filed the motion, the motion was moved from May to June. Then the court moved the motion again. Then Cook moved the motion to August. Hence, what should've been heard in May had to be postponed for fourth months.
Then, Tafoya filed the motion 9 days late. This gave Cook no time to respond to many of the City's allegations and accusations. The brief mainly stated that Cook was "harassing" the city. The argument was repeated a number of times through the brief.
Today, on Aug. 18, 2015 - the hearing was heard. Tafoya was walking with a limp. He looked stressed. His right eye was twitching.
The court issued a tentative decision against Cook. In other words, the initial decision of the court was to deny forcing the city to obey the court order. Tafoya looked satisfied with himself.
While court was in session, Cook took the order and read it thoroughly. He thought through all the arguments to make in front of the judge. In the world of litigation, it's nearly impossible to have the judge change his or her mind, once a tentative decision has been issued.
He told himself, I didn't come to lose.
The parties were called. When the judge asked if Cook had anything to say, he made his argument point by point. At first, the court did not agree with the Petitioner. Then, Cook pointed out that not all records were produced.
Tafoya said, "We've produced 3,000 pages of records."
Cook pulled a stack of papers from his bag. He placed them on top of the table. He argued that the documents the City swears it produces is not in that stack. Cook then slid them to Tafoya.
Tafoya, sweating and tense, thumbed through the stack of papers and said, "These are the bank statements."
Cook said, "No, they're not. That's the vendor list."
Tafoya said, "The vendor list are like bank statements."
The court said, "The vendor list is not bank statements."
Then, the pupil in Tafoya's eyes blackened and dilated. And while the judge was talking, he made eye contact with Cook and said, "F(*& You!" He pointed to his body and said, "You want a piece of this!"
Cook was at first shocked. Then thought, Why would I want a piece of that? THAT, is nasty.
Cook ignored the comment and returned to listening to the judge. He pointed out to the court all the other documents that the City claimed were produced, but really weren't. The court agreed with Petitioner on nine out of fourteen points.
The court ordered that both parties had to return in five days, and the City had to prove it already released documents or it must release them before the five days.
At one point of the discussion, Cook stated to the court that the purpose of the Public Records Act was to determine if wrongdoing occurred and to hold those who have done wrong accountable for it.
The nine outstanding sets of records are needed to determine the following questions:
1. Did the city endanger the children of Baldwin Park by hiring unqualified life guards because they were the children of Council Members?
2. Did Manuel Carrillo Jr. steal money from the Parks and Recreation Program?
3. How much money did the City of Baldwin Park take in with their scandal, in which they towed and confiscated the cars of the undocumented?
4. How much money did the City of Baldwin Park pay to the towing company, who has the reputation in the city for greasing public officials?
For Casas and Cook, the order is a historic event. It's the first time in Baldwin Park's history that an individual won a mandated injunction against the City and an enforcement order against it. Also, it proves to the City that an individual can enforce the law against a City that habitually and intentionally violates the law. (Trivia fact, there's no Appellate Court decision showing that a City needed an enforcement order. Baldwin Park's special.)
The Public Officials and Administrators of Baldwin Park have a problem telling the truth to its citizens. This is the third injunction against it for not releasing records. Furthermore, there are two outstanding Public Records Act lawsuits against it.
Finally, think about this. The City Council and Mayor made a decision to not tell the people the truth. Theoretically, they represent the entire population of Baldwin Park, which is officially 70,000 people. And one person stood up to the power of 70,000 and said, that's wrong. You need to tell us the truth. And one person was right against the power of 70,000.
The City may have fired the boxing coach. But it was clear today, that he's still showing the public who the council members and administrators really are. It appears that getting rid of messenger, doesn't change the message that those in the power have abused it against its citizens. The spirit of the fight lives on.