Recent California Appellate Decision Could Dim Sunshine Laws, Cripple Transparency

April 3, 2014 | In the last few days, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision in the  McCutcheon v. Federal Election...

April 3, 2014 |

In the last few days, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision in the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission that will alter campaign financing. 

While much has been written about McCutcheon, there was also a recent California Appellate Court decision issued last week that could greatly affect access to records and more importantly, how public and elected officials conduct business in the name of the people.

The California Sixth District Appellate Court issued a 3-0 ruling last week in the case that started out as Smith v. San Jose, that public messages by government employees and elected officials on private communication devices are exempt from public disclosure laws. Plaintiff Ted Smith had sought communications by the Mayor of San Jose and city council members regarding a downtown San Jose development project that were conducted on private devices.  

The 3-0 decision overturned a lower court ruling that ruled they were subject to disclosure laws. Smith is expected to appeal to the California State Supreme Court. 

Media associations such as the First Amendment Coalition and California Newspaper Publishers Association have expressed concerns the ruling will allow public officials to skirt public access and open meeting laws simply by conducting business on personal electronic devices. 

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Joe Apathy said...

It's okay. We still have our 3 minutes at the podium-it's all good.

Connie said...

In Elk Grove where we have had our share of problems keeping our city council honest, we taxpayers give the council members a monthly stipend for their personal cell phones and most of them do their city business via that cell phone. If we are paying for that phone, the public should have access to anything that has to do with city business.

We have enough trouble with local government keeping them on the straight and narrow. How does the public stand a fighting chance if this new ruling stands when elected officials can now conduct the business of the people out of their view and scrutiny?"

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