A Sacramento judge said in a tentative ruling Thursday that the state Senate must release the calendars, appointment books and meeting schedules of indicted former Democratic senators Ron Calderon and Leland Yee in response to a lawsuit by the Bay Area and Los Angeles news groups.
In his tentative ruling, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny wrote that the public interest in the release of the Yee and Calderon records outweighs any reason to keep them private. Doing so, Kenny wrote, would be to accept that the legislative open records act “is a fruitless and meaningless set of laws.”
In separate indictments last year, federal authorities alleged that Yee and Calderon accepted bribes in return for official favors. Both have denied wrongdoing.
“The allegation of such wrongdoings created by the federal investigation is of a significant interest to the public,” Kenny wrote. “To the extent these alleged activities occurred under the guise of the legislators’ official duties is even more concerning.”
Attorneys for both sides will be in court Friday at 9 a.m. to argue the case.
The lawsuit, brought against the California Legislature last summer by the Bay Area News Group and Los Angeles News Group, sought the records of indicted then-lawmakers Calderon of Montebello and Yee of San Francisco. The Senate rejected the requests, arguing the records were exempt under the historically limited open records law. Then-Secretary of the Senate Greg Schmidt also alleged that the release of the requested records would risk the then-lawmakers’ safety.
Kenny dismissed the argument. “Any security concerns that may exist are outweighed by the public’s interest in this matter, the narrow nature of the request, and the fact that Respondents have failed to identify a specific security concern with regard to the records actually sought,” he wrote.
The judge continued, “Further undermining (the Senate’s) security argument is the fact that both Senator Yee and Senator Calderon have been suspended from their official duties since March 28, 2014. As they are not engaging in legislative activities, anyone obtaining the subject records would be unable to use them to determine the Senators’ habits and locations.”
Senate lawyers also alleged that producing the records would “interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation. Kenny noted that they did not provide any declarations from law enforcement agencies to support the contention.
Media organizations have regularly pushed for more access to lawmakers’ records. Thursday’s tentative ruling, though, leaves unclear whether it would apply to all legislators.
Duffy Carolan, an attorney for LANG and BANG, in an interview with the newspaper groups, called the tentative ruling a victory for open-records advocates.
The ruling “puts to rest the notion that public officials calendars are off limits,” she said.
Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago.