THE VAST MATRIX!!! ... and other fun facts from this morning's "electronically challenged" hearing on TEXTGATE

click to enlarge Photo: Laura Johns
Photo: Laura Johns

This morning, the sleeping giant of inappropriate public-official fingerplay was reawakened when attorneys representing Citizens for a Greater Orange County and, well, Orange County matched wits in a case-management conference on the 18th floor of the Orange County Courthouse. At issue – at least for today – was the fact that the two requests for public records consisting of errant text messages ("girltalk") have yet to be fully realized, and there is a risk that the information (specifically the texts deleted from several commissioners' phones) could fall off the devices if they aren't properly secured soon. Surely you remember what we're talking about when we say "textgate," so we won't go into to detail further than this: Commissioners were allegedly (and actually) taking cues from iPhone chats with lobbyists when they basically (and maybe illegally) withheld the earned sick-time ordinance from this year's ballot back in September. Anyway, today's hearing was more of a procedural affair to set up a time-frame for an actual trial, but, in addition to reminding us what we did last summer, it provided it's share of bizarre revelations which we've archived for you below.

  • The hearing was moved from room 17A to room 18C at the last minute. After a gathered throng of about twenty sat in 18C for 15 minutes beyond the set hearing time – casually admiring a sketch of a man's penis (presumably for a criminal trial) on the far wall and thinking out loud that "justice is cocked and loaded today!" – the whole thing was moved across the hall to fancier 18B, sans penis.

  • The plaintiffs (Citizens) allege that there are 18 devices – seven county-owned cellphones, nine privately owned cellphones, and two iPads (referred to as iPods by the counsel precisely one time, because "they also play music") – that contain public records, and only a few of them have been secured by the county. Also, a recent Supreme Court ruling sort of nudges the court into preserving those electronic records if the county won't appropriately do so.
  • Orange County attorney Mason Grower estimated somewhere between 14 and 20-odd devices, depending on how you slice this argument. Speaking of technology, both Grower and the judge referred to themselves as "electronically challenged," basically because they are old white men and "electronically challenged" is the new black.
  • Citizens' attorney Tom Shults read aloud from a letter from the county legal department a flat out refusal to comply with the notion of the county seizing the devices from commissioners and staff. "I told you, in no uncertain terms," etc. Harsh! Shults reminded the judge that "all commissioners have public records on these devices." Even if some commissioners – cough, Jennifer Thompson, cough – tried to delete them, they go to a hidden place on the device and can be recovered for a time. Even so, Shults called the current state of affairs with the county's vague attempts at data retrieval "a spiderweb of devices being delivered to who knows who and who knows where ... It's going to turn into a really huge mess."
  • There was more procedural gobbledegook and more talk of being "electronically challenged." Also, the plaintiffs need to file a motion to get the data preserved, and they haven't really done that yet.
  • Several of the (allegedly) offending lobbyists had counsel in the house to represent their issues. They've been subpoenaed and they're not having it. That's going to require another two-hour hearing soon. One of the attorneys said hello to us by name! Swoon. We're gonna be rich, etc.
  • County Attorney Grower (not shower!) called all of Shults' requests "extraordinary, and very, very broad," banging a continuous drumbeat that would climax with ...
  • "There is a matrix! A vast matrix out there!" This is how Grower tried to explain just how the county is going about getting the public records off of the commissioners' cellphones. Some of them are downloading stuff via third party apps and putting the info on thumbdrives for review, others are submitting theirs to a company called Navigant (one is saying that they want to use their own cash to pay for it "for legal reasons"), some are trusting the county's ISS department, and one – one unnamed "she" whom Grower would not identify – is refusing altogether (we're hearing it's Tiffany Moore Russell).  "I'm not trying to obfuscate or hide," Grower half-hearted toward the end.
  • The big trial is now scheduled for June 10, with a pretrial on May 7, and several hearings before that, including one very soon to hear a motion about securing the devices. Citizens wants the county to pay the costs for all of this because it's their responsibility to get public records by law. The judge called that a "legal argument for damages" that would be heard at a later date.
  • There is a VAST MATRIX OF ELECTRONICALLY CHALLENGED PEOPLE and none of them are guaranteed sick time by county law. That's all, folks!

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