SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – A weekly newspaper defending itself in a lawsuit brought by ex-NBA star and Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, received a $15,000 grant Monday from First Look Media to help with litigation costs.
The publication started by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar says the money will help the Sacramento News & Review combat rising legal costs accrued during its drawn-out scuffle with Johnson in Sacramento County Superior Court.
Johnson has refused to comply with the newspaper’s Public Records Act request and is suing to stop the release of hundreds of emails that the Sacramento News & Review claims are a matter of public interest.
First Look Media says Johnson’s lawsuit potentially threatens free press and transparency and it stressed the importance of public records requests.
“Although the media and political reach of this case may be regionally focused, it bears a significant public interest. If the mayor succeeds in blocking public review of emails sent in his capacity as mayor that relate to the use of public resources, it could set a precedent that undermines the public’s right of access to governmental information,” First Look Media said in a statement Monday.
Johnson and co-plaintiff the National Conference of Black Mayors sued the city of Sacramento and the alternative newspaper in July, claiming emails sent between the mayor and his attorney are protected by attorney-client privilege.
Johnson’s short stint as president of the National Conference of Black Mayors, which ended with Johnson’s lawyers abruptly filing bankruptcy on behalf of the conference, has been the focus of several national publications since he filed suit against the newspaper in July. Deadspin published multiple investigative pieces regarding Johnson’s time as president of the conference and it has recently petitioned to join the lawsuit as a real party of interest.
The newspaper contends that city attorneys and Johnson’s pro bono lawyers at Ballard Spahr are needlessly attempting to block Deadspin from joining the lawsuit and creating unnecessary motions.
In an effort to generate legal funding, the Sacramento News & Review has held fundraisers and created a GoFundMe account to extend the small independent newspaper’s court battle. According to the GoFundMe account, the paper has received $30,000 in donations in the last month.
First Look Media made the donation through its Press Freedom Litigation Fund. The fund has helped various journalists pursue or fight legal challenges – including U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who was arrested in 2010 for releasing documents to WikiLeaks.
While Johnson’s attorneys continue to fight to stop the release of his emails, his prior troubles have resurfaced thanks to recent Deadspin articles recounting his dealings with a Phoenix minor during his NBA career. In 1996, Johnson settled with the teenaged girl for $230,000 after she accused him of sexually assaulting her at his home.
Last week, Deadspin released police video of then-17-year-old Amanda Koba graphically describing Johnson’s actions to an investigator.
In response to the released police video, ESPN announced last week it was delaying the release of a documentary about the Sacramento Kings that prominently features Johnson.
Late Tuesday, Johnson issued an email statement that he would not run for a third term as mayor in 2016.
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