The latest on those Kevin Johnson emails
SN&R’s legal fight for the mayor’s “secret” messages and other documents still awaits its day in court.
After more than a year, SN&R’s legal battle with Mayor Kevin Johnson—over whether the city should make public his secret National Conference of Black Mayors emails—is nearing an end.
This past Thursday, April 21, a Sacramento Superior Court judge issued an analysis of both this paper’s and Team K.J.’s legal arguments. The take-home: Johnson’s pro bono attorneys at Ballard Spahr failed to prove that the remaining 158 records in question are privileged conversations between the mayor and his legal team—but SN&R also has yet to prove that they should be made public as well.
Judge Christopher Krueger directed SN&R, the mayor and the city of Sacramento attorneys to meet again “in good faith to attempt to resolve (or at least narrow) their dispute informally,” he wrote.
If this is not possible, the judge ordered that SN&R and the mayor file a joint statement, “no longer than five pages,” detailing areas of disagreement. This statement would be due in approximately three weeks, or sooner, and a hearing will be scheduled for a later date.
This legal tussle dates back to March of last year, when SN&R reporter Cosmo Garvin filed a California Public Records Act request for all emails on the city server sent to or from the mayor’s secret firstname.lastname@example.org accounts. In response, Johnson sued SN&R and the city last July in hopes to block hundreds of emails from release by the city attorney. This paper stood up to the mayor and, after a hearing last summer, Ballard Spahr released more than 400 emails and records to SN&R.
But 158 emails and documents remain unreleased. SN&R argued that all of them should be made public, because they were not emails between Johnson and his attorneys, but instead conversations between staff, interns, volunteers and others.
Krueger agreed with this in his statement last week—sort of. “Most of the documents on the privilege log … are not emails between Johnson or the NCBM and Ballard Spahr,” he wrote. The judge even cited specific emails—conversations between the mayor and volunteers with his Stand Up education-reform nonprofit—and argued that it was “clear that this email is not a communication ’between a client or his lawyer.’”
The judge was not above a joke, as he wrote in reference to the above email: “To paraphrase an old Wendy’s commercial, ’Where’s the attorney?’”
But Krueger nevertheless denied SN&R’s motion to have the court review each and every email in question.
The court also was unpersuaded by both SN&R and Ballard Spahr’s arguments to affirm or deny all 158 emails. “SN&R argues globally that none of the documents are privileged, and Petitioners argue globally that all of them are privileged.
“These global arguments are not particularly helpful,” Krueger wrote.
Moving forward, SN&R plans to drill down on specific emails and records that clearly either waived attorney-client privilege or were not conversations involving Johnson’s legal counsel.
“It appears that the judge in our case thinks many of the ’secret’ KJ emails should see the light of day,” SN&R’s editor, Rachel Leibrock, wrote in an update on the legal battle last week. She explained that the paper’s legal team plans to identify specific emails and records to be made public, and hopes to conclude this protracted legal battle within the next four weeks.