California Supreme Court Holds Personal Emails of Public Officials are “Public Records”
The California Public Records Act has long been a tool for journalists and citizens to learn more about how public officials reach decision concerning public matters. With a simple letter, a member of the public can request that a local government produce documents pertaining to an upcoming vote on a controversial land use project or other public matters. Public officials have long been required to produce communications from their official government-supplied email account in response to these document requests. For many years, a gray area has been whether public officials were required to also review and produce personal emails and text messages pertaining to government business. On March 2, 2017, the California Supreme Court issued an opinion confirming that a public official’s personal email and text messages can be “public records” for purposes of a Public Records Act request. The decision, City of San Jose v. Superior Court, (Mar. 2, 2017 S218066). This decision is a game changer for transparency in government proceedings. Public officials can no longer prevent the public from accessing the full spectrum of communications officials have pertaining to government affairs.
This post is the latest in a series of posts on the First Amendment and transparency in government. Jeffrey Lewis and the other attorneys at Broedlow Lewis LLP are experienced attorneys and can advise you about your potential rights concerning access to public records. Each case is different and you should consult a lawyer rather than relying on this post as legal advice for your situation.