SLO County Counsel threatens CalCoastNews
July 31, 2015
UPDATE: Statements by CalCoastNews editor Bill Loving have been added to this story.
By CalCoastNews staff
A deputy county attorney has sent a threatening email and registered letter to CalCoastNews following publication of an article which included allegations of false testimony given by social worker Dee Torres-Hill. Court records show that Torres-Hill, the wife of county supervisor Adam Hill, provided information to child welfare officials in 2001 that later contributed to a family losing custody of their three children to the household of an alleged child rapist.
Deputy County Counsel Debra K. Barriger sent the communications to CalCoastNews asserting that disclosure of information contained in a recent article on this site is “protected by law” and expressing the hope that “court intervention” will not be necessary. She advised reporters to cease referencing and to destroy court documents, or risk misdemeanor charges. Barriger wrote in the July 30 letter that “information contained in such reports may also be privileged and confidential under state and federal regulations.”
Barriger wrote that “regardless of the manner in which you or your organization acquired the documents, continued use and possession is a violation of law.”
CalCoastNews editor Bill Loving questioned the county attorney’s priorities.
“I cannot understand why the county attorney is threatening CalCoastNews rather than looking into the process that put three children into the home of a man accused of being a child rapist,” Loving said. “It is clear from the first two parts of the series that there are serious questions about the process that was used to take the children from their parents.”
The 15-year-old documents were provided to CalCoastNews by the birth parents of three children who, after being removed from their custody, were placed in the Nipomo home of a man now charged with 126 counts of child sexual abuse, including rape and sodomy.
Barriger also referred to a recent exchange of emails between CalCoastNews Publisher Karen Velie and Lee Collins, head of the county’s Social Services Department. Barriger said an email from Velie seeking information about adoption and foster home policies “references summaries or reports to the court.”
In the email, Velie asked Collins why his agency provided to the court allegations proven unfounded by a police investigation.
“CalCoastNews will continue to report this story,” Loving said. “It needs to be reported, especially as it appears that there was no system of checks and balances to protect the child who was victimized repeatedly for six years.”
It is true that juvenile court records are confidential, but that confidentiality is not absolute, Loving said. Such court records have been made public in the past and CalCoastNews broke no laws when it was given access to the records, he said.
“Were any laws broken when the reports about the parents were made to police,the child protective system and the courts?” Loving asked. “Because the system is supposed to put the best interests of the children first, shouldn’t the process used in this case, be looked at first?”