Sacramento Mayor|Sues His Own City

     SACRAMENTO (CN) – Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson went to court Thursday to try to stop his City Attorney’s Office from releasing emails to a weekly newspaper.
     Johnson and his co-plaintiff, the National Conference of Black Mayors, sued the city on Wednesday. They say the emails between the mayor and his attorney – exchanged while Johnson was president of the National Conference of Black Mayors – are protected by attorney-client privilege.
     At the hearing Thursday, a superior court judge gave the parties to the lawsuit a week to try to work it out.
     The Sacramento News & Review asked for Johnson’s emails and financial records under a California Public Records Act request and the city attorney said the emails will be released July 6, barring a court order.
     But Johnson and the National Conference say: “The City is not permitted to disclose the privileged communications in response to SNR’s record requests because they are privileged attorney-client communication and work product which are exempt for disclosure under the CPRA.”
     Johnson, who is in his second term as mayor, was president of the National Conference of Black Mayors until it filed for bankruptcy in April 2014. He wants emails sent from his city account to his attorney exempted from release, saying the newspaper has “stubbornly refused to modify its CPRA request.”
     The Sacramento News & Review says Johnson’s beef should be with the city attorney, who decided the emails were public records.
     Another newspaper did modify its request to exclude the emails, but the News & Review says it is standing firm and that Johnson’s lawyer threatened them with a lawsuit – and delivered.
     Chico Community Publishing dba the Sacramento News & Review is a defendant in Johnson’s lawsuit, along with the city and the city attorney’s office.
     “When they tell a reporter we’re going to sue you if you don’t change what you’re doing, that’s an intimidation tactic and it’s kind of ridiculous,” News & Review contributing editor Cosmo Garvin told Courthouse News.
     Garvin said the city has released three batches of the mayor’s emails, and that the city typically responds well to public record requests.
     “It’s a weird situation. The city is pretty liberal with the exemptions,” Garvin said.
     At issue are hundreds of emails that Johnson says are protected under attorney-client privilege and that if released, would cause him and the National Conference to be “irreparably harmed.”
     Johnson, the city’s first African-American mayor, and his attorneys say the lawsuit is not about damages but about protecting attorney-client privilege.
     “All of the parties who filed this writ, including Mayor Kevin Johnson, are committed to transparency and disclosure of all appropriate public records,” Johnson’s attorney Peter Haviland said in a statement. “They are equally committed to the bedrock principle of attorney-client privilege, which is recognized in the public records request statute.”
     A hearing was set for 1:30 p.m. Thursday, during which a Superior Court judge could decide whether the emails will be released July 6, as planned.
     Johnson testified Tuesday in Superior Court on a separate matter, and acknowledged that he deleted text messages regarding a $500 million sports arena partly funded by the city.
     Johnson said he deleted the text messages despite being advised by city staff to save all electronic communication regarding the arena deal with the Sacramento Kings.
     Garvin says the mayor’s decision to sue a news outlet is bizarre and that his timing is terrible.
     “This is on the day that the front page of the [Sacramento] Bee is about the mayor deleting texts,” Garvin said. “It’s the same time the city is getting ready to delete thousands and thousands of emails … which they’ve never done before.”
     After the collapse and bankruptcy of the National Conference of Black Mayors, Johnson became president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and has been mentioned as a future state Democratic candidate.
     He seeks writ of mandate and injunctive relief.
     The News & Review is represented by Davis Wright Tremaine in San Francisco. Johnson is represented by Ballard Spahr of Philadelphia.
     Johnson, a graduate of UC-Berkeley was an NBA point guard for 13 years, with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns. He was a three-time NBA All-Star. The Suns have retired his No. 7 jersey.
The bankruptcy trustee for the National Conference of Black Mayors is a co-plaintiff.

%d bloggers like this: