Mayor Johnson’s attorney releases list of ‘private’ emails

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson rbenton@sacbee.com

As part of an ongoing legal battle, private attorneys for Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson have compiled a list of 158 emails and associated documents that they believe should be considered privileged and withheld from public view.

The log, released Wednesday by the city, lists communications between Johnson, his aides, associates and attorneys in 2013 when Johnson was waging a battle for leadership of the National Conference of Black Mayors, an Atlanta-based group in which the mayor was a key player and, at one point, the head. The list does not contain the emails or documents themselves.

The Sacramento News & Review and The Sacramento Bee submitted separate Public Records Act requests for documents and correspondence that might offer insight into that fight.

More than 6,100 pages of emails and 16 documents were released earlier this month and not in dispute. They showed Johnson’s takeover of the black mayors group depended heavily on the backs of city staff and volunteers, who used official city titles, letterhead and the city seal in their correspondence and presentations.

One of the mayor’s attorneys, Peter Haviland of Ballard Spahr LLP, could not be reached Wednesday about why he believes the 158 emails and associated documents are privileged. The mayor’s attorneys throughout the log said the messages and documents involved advice and opinion from Johnson’s counsel, as well as discussions of legal strategy during a court battle over control of the group.

Many of the emails were transmitted only between Sacramento City Hall employees and volunteers, based on a list of the senders and recipients.

Ballard Spahr reviewed about 475 emails that the City Attorney’s Office pulled from the public record as potentially privileged. Hundreds of documents Ballard Spahr did not flag as privileged are expected to be released Thursday by the city.

Attorneys for the News & Review, a named defendant in the mayor’s suit along with the city of Sacramento, will review the list to determine which of the emails and documents, if any, they agree are legally privileged, and where they disagree with the mayor’s attorneys, said Nick Miller, co-editor of the publication.

“We’ll be looking at this and consulting with our attorney,” Miller said. “This is a priority for us. We want to resolve this as soon as possible.”

Although The Bee submitted a request for the documents, the newspaper was not listed as a defendant in the mayor’s lawsuit after agreeing to allow the city attorney to independently determine whether correspondence was subject to attorney-client privilege. Michael Benner, senior deputy city attorney for Sacramento, has indicated that the city has no authority to protect documents under that privilege if a private attorney is involved.

City officials have said it will be up to the News & Review and the mayor’s attorneys to try to come to an agreement. Otherwise, the court likely will make a determination on what is releasable.

The Bee can ask the court to review records on the log for release if it believes any additional documents should not be subject to attorney-client privilege.

Johnson spokesman Ben Sosenko said Wednesday night that the mayor’s attorneys are willing to release what they legally should.

“From the beginning, our attorneys only wanted the chance to review emails to see if they fall under attorney-client privilege, the same privilege granted to everyone,” Sosenko wrote in an email. “After reviewing the emails, our lawyers determined that the majority do not fall under attorney-client privilege and there will now be hundreds of more emails added to the thousands already made available under the California Public Records Act.”