We have an update to an installment of our continuing series "What your government won't tell you" published in the paper Jan. 24 regarding the Kern High School District's hiring of outside law firms to investigate its police department.

The district says it has entered into a contract with Sacks Ricketts & Case to conduct routine internal affairs investigations that are not related to the alleged misuse of the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System.

KHSD declined to release a copy of the contract — which an expert on public records law said is lawful under a court ruling — but this week did provide key details.

The open-ended agreement includes an hourly rate for attorney's work of $210 and an hourly rate for paralegal work of $130 to $185, said KHSD spokeswoman Lisa Krch. That's a special rate for public agencies, she said.

The high school district entered into the contract Sept. 21, 2016, Krch said. She said it has not paid the firm anything yet.

Sacks Ricketts & Case specializes in class action defense and internal investigation, “including the requirements for investigations of police,” according to the firm’s website.

The firm also has expertise investigating “harassment, discrimination and retaliation” in the public sector, including cases involving “high-level public officials,” the website states.

Now here's the backstory, for those who may not have read our prior reporting on this issue.

On Jan. 12, The Californian filed a California Public Records Act request seeking “any and all agreements and/or contracts the Kern High School District has entered into with law firms investigating the KHSD Police Department and/or its officers.”

A lawyer for KHSD responded that it could neither "confirm or deny" such records existed, which is unusual. Agencies withhold records they believe are exempt from public disclosure all the time, but they don't refuse to say whether those records exist. 

When The Californian reported on the response from the district's lawyer, KHSD officials objected to the story, saying they had already provided the newspaper a copy of a contract with Van Dermyden Maddux, a Sacramento-based law firm retained to investigate the district's use of CLETS.

Except The Californian did not ask for agreements exclusive to CLETS matters. It asked for all contracts related to investigations of the police department and/or its officers. 

On Jan. 27, The Californian independently learned of the contract with Sacks Rickets & Case and asked KHSD for a copy of it. Twenty minutes later, the district acknowledged the contract’s existence and explained it was for routine internal affairs matters. 

(It's not clear whether the district intended to acknowledge the contract before The Californian specifically asked for it. It could have been a coincidence.)

Since Jan. 27, The Californian has been pressing the school district for a copy of the contract. The district has not provided it but on Tuesday answered the newspaper's questions about it, namely how much the district is paying the firm and whether the contract is open- or closed-ended.

KHSD maintains the contract is confidential under state law. We ran that by California Newspaper Publishers Association General Counsel Nikki Moore, who said the California State Supreme Court ruled Dec. 29 that attorney fee agreements and billing records in ongoing cases can be withheld from the public.

“Billing records may be accessible, but only once the case is over or the investigation or matter is closed,” she said.

The Californian suggested KHSD redact any personnel information from the contract and then release it, but the district didn't go that route.

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