Capitol Alert

Are emails about government business on a public worker’s personal account public record?

In this March 11, 2013 file photo, then-Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, is shown during session in the Assembly chamber.
In this March 11, 2013 file photo, then-Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, is shown during session in the Assembly chamber. hamezcua@sacbee.com

The California Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling Thursday morning that will determine whether government officials can use a private device or email account to conceal conversations about official business.

In June 2009, activist Ted Smith filed a public records request for government communication related to a downtown development project in San Jose. The city refused to hand over the voicemails, emails, or text messages officials and their staff members sent or received on private electronic devices using private accounts.

The case traveled through the court system. Nearly three years ago, the 6th District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of San Jose, allowing the city to keep the communication private. The high court now appears ready to issue a ruling on the appeals court decision.

The case could have widespread ramifications to the way officials and government workers converse about city business amongst themselves, with stakeholders and other interests.

“This is an important case because it addresses the question of whether the government can withhold information that otherwise relates to public business merely because they conveyed that information over a non-governmental email account,” said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition in San Rafael.

The McClatchy Co., publisher of The Sacramento Bee; the First Amendment Coalition and other media organizations have supported Smith’s legal battle.

The court is expected to issue its ruling at 10 a.m.

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