FAC intervenes in lawsuit that attempts to prohibit disclosure of public records

The First Amendment Coalition has filed a motion to intervene in Shelton v. Napa Valley Unified School District, a “reverse CPRA” lawsuit that seeks to prevent the release of public records regarding a former public school teacher’s alleged sexual abuse of students.

A reverse CPRA lawsuit seeks to prevent a government agency from releasing records in response to a California Public Records Act request. Reverse CPRA lawsuits are often brought by the subject of the records that are sought. In this case, Matthew Shelton, a former public school teacher who was previously charged with sexual misconduct while working in the Napa Valley Unified School District and is currently facing similar charges from his time teaching for Benicia Unified School District, brought a reverse CPRA lawsuit against both school districts to prevent them releasing documents responsive to a CPRA request filed by reporter Holly McDede.

FAC represents McDede, who covers sexual misconduct in schools, and has previously written about Shelton’s case for the Vallejo Sun. She made CPRA requests for records of Shelton’s misconduct, employment records, any separation or settlement agreements, and other documents from both the Napa Valley and Benicia school districts. But before either district released all records sought by McDede, Shelton filed the reverse CPRA lawsuit, and a temporary order directed the districts to withhold the records until the case is considered.

“Few things are more important to a community than keeping children safe,” said McDede. “The people in these communities have a right to know what the Benicia school district knew about Shelton’s past when he was hired, and any steps the district did or did not take to protect students.”

“The public has a compelling interest in transparency and accountability. Records documenting well-founded claims of teacher misconduct are clearly subject to disclosure. Cases like this one can’t be used to deprive the people of their right to know,” said David Loy, FAC’s Legal Director.

The motion asks the court to permit McDede to intervene in Shelton v. Napa Valley Unified School District and allow FAC to argue that the court should dismiss Shelton’s reverse CPRA lawsuit, which will permit the districts to release the documents requested by McDede. It was filed in Solano County Superior Court.