Letter: An erroneous court ruling against UC

I am compelled to respond to your March 22 story about the University of California’s appeal of a lower court ruling in a case brought by the media conglomerate — Reuters America — against the regents.

This is not a case about the public’s right to know, nor is it about government transparency. This is an unprecedented attempt by a monied commercial interest to use the university to seek out proprietary information from private parties — information the UC  system does not have, has never had and never used. In direct violation of legislative statute, Reuters is attempting, for its own financial gain, to reach through the university to get information it could not otherwise obtain.

Reuters makes its money by selling financial information. It publishes the Venture Capital Journal and the website Private Equity Hub and has a commercial interest in publishing stories about the private equity firms Sequoia and Kleiner Perkins, which are highly protective of their data. After the regents were forced to disclose private equity records in 2003 (as a result of a lawsuit), these and other firms blacklisted the university from future funds. This compelled the Legislature in 2005 to enact six new exemptions from disclosure under the California Public Records Act so that public pension funds would be able to continue investing in these funds — which have proved extremely profitable for the university and have greatly benefited our students, faculty, employees and retirees.

The lower court ruling, if allowed to stand, would set a dangerous and unsupported precedent with far-reaching consequences.  Nobody who does business with the university, or any other government agency, could be assured that otherwise confidential information would not be disclosed to any competitor or critic or whomever.

The lower court agreed that the university does not have, has never had and never used the documents that Reuters seeks. Nonetheless, the trial court ruled that the UC system should seek out these documents on Reuters’ behalf.  If this chilling ruling is allowed to stand, it would represent the judicial rewriting of the CPRA — without legislative involvement or approval — and place an impossible burden and expense on public agencies. It must be reversed.

— Dianne Klein,
Spokesperson, UC Office of the President

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