WALNUT CREEK -- The Bay Area News Group is asking a judge to force the Mt. Diablo Unified School District to release internal records about a former Concord elementary schoolteacher charged with sexually molesting 13 male students.
Citing personnel and investigatory exemptions in the state's public records law, the district has refused to produce documents pertaining to former Woodside Elementary School teacher Joseph Martin, 45, who pleaded not guilty in July to 125 felony molestation counts.
The news organization, which owns the Contra Costa Times, San Jose Mercury News and Oakland Tribune, argued in a lawsuit filed in Contra Costa County Superior Court that the records are not exempt and must be disclosed.
Judges in numerous previous court cases have upheld the public's right to access information about well-founded allegations of wrongdoing by public employees, said news group attorney Duffy Carolan.
"The district can't hide behind claims of privacy or privilege to protect from public oversight Mr. Martin's wrongdoing or the district's response to it," Carolan said. "Its legal position is untenable and shortsighted. The public deserves answers."
News group investigative reporter Matthias Gafni formally requested records of allegations involving Martin after prosecutors charged the once-popular teacher with molesting 13 students as far back as 2006. If convicted, Martin faces life in prison.
In addition to the criminal proceedings against the teacher, three claims and a civil rights lawsuit have been filed against district employees alleging officials had earlier suspicions of Martin's abuse but failed to report him to police or Child Protective Services, as required by law.
The most recent claim cites a 2013 police report, which quoted from a 2006 internal Mt. Diablo school district document about finding "potential child abuse" at the hands of Martin. The police report also says no one from the district reported Martin to Child Protective Services or law enforcement authorities at that time, but instead created new rules for Martin, such as keeping his classroom door open at all times.
The records sought by the news group likely include district investigations into several incidents witnessed and reported to district officials by other teachers.
As of late Friday afternoon, the district's legal counsel and school board members had not responded to requests for comment.