First Amendment Coalition files suit to help student journalist obtain information

Publisher’s note: Sometimes Public Records Act requests offer the only avenue to the release of information of interest from the government. Lassen News supports the efforts of Elizabeth Wilson, the First Amendment Coalition and anyone else who seeks to obtain information from the government that should be legally disclosed.

Delay, delay, delay

That seems to be the tactic administrators at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo have taken when it comes to three public records requests filed by Elizabeth Wilson, a student journalist at Mustang News, Cal Poly’s student newspaper.

Wilson filed those requests in Fall 2022 while researching stories on campus sexual assault, labor violations alleged by Cal Poly student employees, and a former top Cal State administrator’s failure to respond to sexual harassment and other complaints. She still hasn’t received a single document or any reason why they shouldn’t be released.

So today, FAC is representing Wilson in a lawsuit against Cal Poly for multiple violations of the California Public Records Act; violations that we warned them about when we sent a letter back in June 2023.

Nearly half of Wilson’s college tenure has passed since her original requests. Since then, she’s won awards for the stories she sought records for—stories she had to report without those documents she requested.

One of the facts Wilson found in her reporting was that in 2021, Cal Poly had the highest number of reported sexual assault cases in the 23-campus Cal State system. This is the kind of research and information that is crucial to the safety of students and staff. By delaying and therefore withholding the information Elizabeth sought to report her stories, Cal Poly loses trust and credibility among students, staff, and the broader community.

This case is close to my heart. When I was a student journalist reporting critically on my school’s administration, I faced the delicate balance of reporting on an institution that I also relied upon daily and battled with fears of retaliation. But being a part of the campus paper, and keeping other students and the campus community informed was so rewarding and catalyzed such important policy changes that it lit a fire in me to pursue a legal career fighting for people’s right to know. Seeing Elizabeth’s fearless, dogged pursuit to hold her university accountable reminds me of the reason I chose this path, and I’m honored to represent her in this case.