« Ind. Decisions - Court of Appeals issues 1 opinion(s) today (and 0 NFP memorandum decision(s)) | Main | Ind. Courts - House adopts HB 1036, intended to replace Marion County judicial selection law declared unconstitutional by the 7th Circuit »

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Courts - "Cal's top court to decide whether emails and texts sent on personal devices are public record" and much more!

Maura Dolan has the story today in the LA Times. It begins:

Community activist Ted Smith suspected backroom dealing at San Jose City Hall.

San Jose’s former mayor was asking the City Council for government money to help develop a project downtown. Smith filed a public records request for all communications related to the development from elected officials and their staff.

The city responded, providing some records but maintaining that emails, texts and other communications sent by government employees on their private devices were not covered by the California Public Records Act.

Nearly eight years later, the downtown project is complete, helped in part by city funds approved by elected San Jose officials. Smith never received the communications he sought.

But his request is likely to produce new rules to deter government officials from using private phones and computers to keep their communications secret.

During a hearing last month, the California Supreme Court appeared ready to rule that government business conducted on private telephones and computers must be made public.

The quandary expressed by justices was how to fashion a rule to protect the privacy of government employees and still ensure that public business was open to inspection. * * *

In examining Smith’s case, the justices of the state’s top court grappled with several questions: How can government ensure employees retain business-related emails and texts on their private devices? What happens if the communications have been deleted?

Will a new rule make it impossible for employees to discuss their work online for fear it will become a public record? Would a message to a friend or family member about a boss, a work project or colleagues have to be disclosed because the topic involved public business? * * *

Karl Olson, representing the news media, including The Times, argued that many public officials are deliberately using personal computers and telephones to conceal their communications. The practice is widespread, Olson wrote.

The examples Olson cited included Hillary Clinton’s use of a private account while secretary of state, the disclosure of emails that showed aides to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie created a mammoth traffic jam to punish a Christie foe, and a host of other cases involving public officials using private email addresses in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Sacramento.

Without conceding that public officials are using private accounts to evade scrutiny, San Jose’s Frimann said making those communications public wouldn’t necessarily provide the public with more information.

“If private accounts become public records, people will go to phones or meetings” to protect confidentiality, the assistant city attorney said.

There is much more in the long story. Here is the webcast of the oral argument in the appeal.

Making this story particularly relevant are several other stories the ILB has seen this morning:

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 2, 2017 01:13 PM
Posted to Courts in general