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Former spokesperson sues DA Price for wrongful termination, discrimination

PIX Now afternoon edition 6-14-2024
PIX Now afternoon edition 6-14-2024 09:38

A former spokesperson for Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price is suing for wrongful termination amid allegations of racial discrimination, retaliation and serious violations of California's open records law. 

Patricia Lee, a former local TV reporter who worked for Price for about six months in 2023, filed the suit Wednesday in Alameda County Superior Court. 

In it, she makes numerous claims, including that she was fired for refusing "to engage in the illegal conduct of withholding, hiding, deleting, or altering the production of public records" and that she was forced to endure racist comments directed at Asian Americans during her tenure with the office.

When asked about Lee's accusations, the District Attorney's Office said it can't comment on personnel matters.

Lee says that after Emilie Raguso of the Berkeley Scanner was barred from a November 2023 press conference in a "cartoonish violation of the First Amendment," the District Attorney's Office received several requests under the California Public Records Act seeking emails and other documents related to the incident, which was allegedly precipitated by Price's animosity towards Raguso's previous reporting. 

"However, it became evident that instead of producing responsive records to CPRA requests, the Alameda County District Attorney chose instead to hide, delete, and change the records," according to the lawsuit, which singles out communications director Haaziq Madyun. 

Lee says she was fired soon after raising concerns about the alleged behavior, given eight minutes to clear out her desk and was never given an explanation about her dismissal.

While Lee's allegations about how Price's office handled public records requests have not been proven in court, open government advocates say that type of behavior -- particularly altering or destroying documents -- completely undermines the whole system of government transparency.

"If that's true, it's the most serious transparency violation there is," said David Loy, legal director at the First Amendment Coalition.
"The entire system of public records disclosure and transparency crumbles if we can't count on public agencies to act in good faith," Loy said. 

Lee's lawsuit doesn't seek the release of the documents in question, but could inspire those news outlets that asked for them in the first place to file their own suits seeking their release.

In addition to Lee's whistleblower claims over public records requests, she also says she was allegedly forced to endure "a racist environment" that was "fostered and encouraged" by Price, who often allegedly made racist comments herself, at one point allegedly saying that "the media and the Asians" were her enemies, according to the suit.

The suit claims that Price also made comments about suspecting Lee of leaking information to the press and working with Asian American activists, including Carl Chan of Save Alameda for Everyone, the organization behind an effort to remove Price from office via a recall election that is scheduled for November.

Lee is seeking monetary damages and civil penalties, as well as court costs and attorneys' fees. Her lawyers didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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