LOS ANGELES (CN) – The Los Angeles Times claims in court that a deal to privatize Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was negotiated behind closed doors, and that the Coliseum Commission blew off the newspaper’s requests for public records.
Joining the Times as plaintiff in Superior Court is Californians Aware, a free speech advocacy group. They sued the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission for public records, and asked the court to reject a lease to the (nonparty) University of Southern California, and put the lease to a public vote.
The commission negotiated the lease after it failed to deliver stadium upgrades as part of its agreement with USC, the Times reported one week ago. The Coliseum has projected losses of roughly $5 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013: almost one-third of its operating budget.
The Times’ July 17 story described the Coliseum as “mired in a corruption scandal.”
“The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office has indicted three former Coliseum managers and three other people who did business with the commission,” according to the Times story.
In its lawsuit, the Times claims: “For the past year and a half, the Times has reported on a series of financial management improprieties at the commission that have spawned state and local investigations and led to the criminal indictment of three former agency managers (and three other people who did business with the Commission). Meanwhile, during this same period, the Commission has negotiated a controversial long-term deal to transfer control of the publicly-owned Coliseum to the private University of Southern California (‘USC’). Notwithstanding the public’s strong interest in the disposition of the Coliseum, and despite the even greater need for openness in the wake of recent scandals involving the Coliseum, the Commission has disregarded its legal obligations and restricted public access to information concerning the USC deal. In particular, the Commission has conducted nearly all of its discussions about the USC lease in a series of secret closed sessions, in violation of the Brown Act. The Commission also has refused to release numerous public records that the Times requested about the Coliseum management, in violation of the CPRA [California Public Records Act.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
Times spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan told Courthouse News in a statement that the newspaper had tried to get the information “without litigation” but the commission “refused.”
Last year, the commission sued two of its former administrators for $1 million, claiming Coliseum management siphoned off hundreds of thousands of dollars at the public’s expense.
In that lawsuit, the commission and Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Association claimed the Coliseum’s former general manager Pat Lynch and co-defendant Todd DeStefano diverted money from events, including raves staged by co-defendants Insomnia Inc. and Go Ventures.
In March, six people were indicted in connection with the scandal, including Insomniac dance party producer Pasquale Rotella, former Coliseum technology manager Leopold Caudillo Jr., former stadium contractor Tony Estrada, Lynch and DeStefano, and Reza Gerami, of Go Ventures. Lynch, DeStefano and Gerami were also arrested in March, the Times reported on March 24.
The Times claims the commission began delaying its responses to record requests after the newspaper began reporting on alleged “financial irregularities,” and while the commission was negotiating the lease with USC.
Among other things, the Times asked to see records of unpaid contributions to Coliseum retirement funds. The Times later reported that Coliseum officials made $1 million in cash payments to a stagehand union. The newspaper claims that the commission did not provide “all the responsive records” relating to those alleged payments.
The Times also requested records of expense reports, wages and benefits and other financial records, and emails between the Coliseum’s interim general manager John Sandbrook and USC.
The Times says wanted to look at the emails after it learned that Sandbrook was negotiating a new job with USC while talks over the lease deal were proceeding. It says that the commission either delayed release “months beyond CPRA’s deadlines for disclosure” or refused to release records altogether.
Los Angeles Times Communications and Californians Aware are represented by Kelli Sager with Davis Wright Tremaine.