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San Diego Lawyers Sue California Coastal Commission For Documents

A pair of San Diego lawyers sued the California Coastal Commission on Tuesday in an effort to get the agency to release documents related to the recent firing of its executive director.

The ouster of Charles Lester at the end of a Feb. 10 commission hearing in Morro Bay became a cause celebre for the state's environmentalists, who showed up to the meeting in large numbers to declare their support.

The commissioners voted 7-5 in closed session to fire him, and subsequently refused to publicly specify the reasons for their decision, since it was a personnel matter.

While some reports indicated that the commissioners were dissatisfied with Lester's management and leadership, environmental advocates contended that he was removed from power to make the agency more accommodating to developers.

According to a complaint filed in San Diego Superior Court, the commission has refused subsequent requests for documents related to the firing under the state Public Records Act. Among other things, the commission contends that individual commissioners are exempt from PRA requests.

"The public has a right to know what actually prompted the firing of a qualified, effective and well-liked executive director," said one of the attorneys, Todd Cardiff. "When was the last time that an executive director was supported by 99 percent of his staff?"

Cardiff and lawyer Brian Pease filed the lawsuit on behalf of an organization called the Grassroots Coalition. Pease is a candidate for San Diego city attorney.

Noaki Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the commission, said she can't comment since the agency hasn't reviewed the lawsuit.

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