Public Officials Can't Shield Government Business By Using Personal Email, California State Supreme Court Rules
California’s highest court decided unanimously Thursday that government officials may be required to make public what they said about public business on their private telephones and personal computers. Editor Betsy Combier: "This is the 'Hillary Effect"
Public officials can't shield government business by using personal email, state Supreme Court rules
By Maura Dolan, LA TIMES
California’s highest court decided unanimously Thursday that government officials may be required to make public what they said about public business on their private telephones and personal computers.
In a decision written by Justice Carol A. Corrigan, the California Supreme Court said the state’s Public Records Act requires public officials to disclose emails, texts and voicemails from private devices if the communications involved government affairs.
Advocates for public access have long complained that government officials were deliberately using private devices to shield their communications from public records requests. Thursday’s decision is expected to end or at least stem the practice.
The court ruled in a case brought by Ted Smith, a community activist who filed a public records request eight years ago for the communications of San Jose city council members and staff about a proposed downtown development.
San Jose supplied some records in response to the request but said communications on private devices were not covered by the public records act. Smith sued, winning in a trial court but losing in a court of appeal.
Cities, counties and other local governments in California urged the court to side with San Jose, arguing they lacked the funds to ensure communications on private devices were disclosed and feared liability if some information on personal devices was not found and produced.
Lawyers for government agencies also complained that their workers’ privacy would be threatened if they had to disclose what they said on their personal devices.
The news media, including The Times, countered that the intent of the state public records act to was to make government business public, even though the law was written before the advent of the Internet and cellphones.
Written arguments on behalf of the media cited a host of cases involving public officials who used private email accounts for government business in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Sacramento.