TURLOCK — California State University on Thursday released Sarah Palin's contract for a June speech at its Stanislaus campus even though it claimed earlier in the day that it did not possess the document.
The mixed message exemplified four months of controversy surrounding the former Alaska governor's speech, capped by Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne's ruling this week that the document should have been open to the public all along.
The discrepancy centers on the separation between the university and its nonprofit foundation. The university is a public institution, but the nonprofit that supports it is regarded as a private group and its records are not subject to state open government laws.
But there's some overlap, as evidenced by the signature on Palin's contract.
Susana Gajic Bruyea signed the document both as the university's vice president for advancement — a public employee — and the executive officer of the foundation's board of directors — a private employee.
It had been in her possession, but as an employee of the foundation.
The contract had no surprises. Its details had been leaked to the press before Palin's appearance, and the university disclosed her speaking fee — $75,000 — after her speech.
Early Thursday, California State University general counsel Dawn Theodora said the contract belongs to the CSU Stanislaus Foundation, the nonprofit that handled the negotiations for the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee's speech at the Turlock campus.
Theodora said she was perplexed by Beauchesne's ruling Monday ordering the school to hand over the contract along with other documents related to Palin's June 25 fund-raising appearance.
"We're faced with an order to turn over a document we don't have. We've never had it," Theodora said. "We're going to have to ask the foundation if they will release the contract to the court and then release it to the public."
The foundation sent Theodora a copy of the contract Thursday and she shared it with the open government group Californians Aware by the end of the day.
CalAware filed a lawsuit in April accusing the university of violating its disclosure obligations under the California Public Records Act.
CalAware will be filing paperwork with the court in the next week or so to collect court costs and attorney fees from the university. In his Monday ruling, Beauchesne awarded CalAware attorney fees and court costs.
CalAware General Counsel Terry Francke said Cal-Aware is tallying those costs. He expects them to be in the tens of thousands of dollars but will not come close to six figures.
The university has said all negotiations concerning the fund-raiser fell to its foundation, which is not subject to the same public records requirements that apply to California's higher education institutions.
In his ruling, Beauchesne did not dispute that claim, citing a 2001 state appeals court decision that university foundations and auxiliary organizations are not beholden to the California Public Records Act.
The judge, however, said CSU's use of the contract made it part of the public record and subject to disclosure. He did not specify what he meant by "use."
The Associated Press and Bee assistant city editor Adam Ashton contributed to this report.