Major CA Public Records Decision on "Private" E-mails of Governmental Officials

A Santa Clara County (CA) Superior Court judge has issued an opinion that could have wide ranging effect on how governmental and elected officials communicate about public business.  If the opinion stands up on appeal, officials will be obligated to turn over public records that are stored on their private handheld devices (as text or other electronic messages) and in their private (non-governmental) e-mail accounts. Up to this point, governments have successfully argued that they can't be held responsible for computer equipment and servers they don't control and, with very limited exceptions, have ignored requests demanding their employees turn over e-mails and texts from their personal accounts or devices.

The Santa Clara County ruling by Judge James Kleinberg basically says a public record is a public record no matter where it is stored.

Here's a link to the full opinion, via the First Amendment Coalition.

Here's a link to an Orange County Register story on the ruling.

Another California case to watch involves an appeal of a February Alameda County Superior Court ruling that requires the University of California to turn over records related to how much it invests in two individual venture funds.  The university system had previously disclosed overall returns generated by the funds but not more detailed information on its investments.  The appeal is based on the theory that UC should not be required to abet a "reach through" public records strategy designed to advance the requestor's (in this case the Reuters news service) financial interest. The Daily Californian (UC Berkeley's student newspaper) has more  on this story here.

We'll update the status of both cases as they work their way through the courts.