Daily Post prevails in public records litigation

Dan Child, who was fired as general manager of Silicon Valley Clean Water. To the right is the SVCW plant on the east end of Radio Road in Redwood City. SVCW photos.

Palo Alto newspaper prevails in public records litigation

Unusual “reverse CPRA” case focused on documents related to sex harassment

March 8, 2022 — The Palo Alto (Calif.) Daily Post has obtained the documents it was seeking in court about $1.8 million in public funds that were paid two former employees of a Redwood City-based sewer district in connection with a sexual harassment case.

The newspaper not only got the documents it wanted but received $25,000 to cover its legal fees.

This 27-month-long legal battle concluded in February before a trial could take place.

It began in 2019, when the Daily Post learned that the sewer agency, Silicon Valley Clean Water (SVCW), agreed to pay $875,000 to its general manager, Dan Child, who was fired in 2018. No explanation was offered for the payout.

The Daily Post then filed California Public Records Act (CPRA) requests for documents from SVCW explaining the payout. The agency initially agreed to provide the documents. Then Child sued SVCW to stop the release, saying it would violate his privacy rights.

The type of lawsuit Child filed is called a “Reverse CPRA” and it’s rarely filed in California.

“This is a case where somebody sued to stop the release of public information,” said Daily Post Editor Dave Price. “Usually newspapers go to court to get information that’s being withheld. This case was the reverse of that.”

After Child sued his former employer, Daily Post filed a legal action to intervene in the lawsuit with the goal of obtaining the documents. Later, a woman described in court filings as Jane Doe entered the case with the goal of keeping the records secret. At that point, there were four parties involved in the litigation.

In December, Jane Doe withdrew from the case. In February, Child agreed to drop the suit. The Post reached an agreement to have Child pay the newspaper $10,000 and SVCW agreed to pay $15,000.

The documents revealed that Child was terminated by SVCW for a variety of allegations such as instructing Jane Doe to become “more comfortable with herself sexually” by as walking around her home naked. She was paid $1 million and signed a separation agreement that required her to keep the case confidential. Child was paid $875,000 upon his termination, with much of that representing equity he had earned in a housing agreement with SVCW.

The Post published the story on Feb. 28.

This sidebar describes how the newspaper got the story.

Editor Price emphasized that this story would not have reached fruition without the hard work of Reporter Emily Mibach and the newspaper’s attorney, Stephen Gerrish of Thoits Law in Los Altos.

The case is 20-CIV-01384 in San Mateo County Superior Court, captioned as Daniel Child v. Silicon Valley Clean Water.