FAC Litigation Report: update on select current cases

FAC has been hard at work in state and federal court, fighting to keep government transparent and our elected leaders accountable.  Here are brief summaries of some recent developments in select FAC cases:

Drone Memo Case: FAC in the Ninth Circuit 

FAC lawyers were in court again last month in a lawsuit that helped bring once-secret U.S. Department of Justice memos to public light.  The memos, analyzing the legality of killing U.S. citizens with weaponized drone strikes, were released after FAC filed an action in San Francisco federal court seeking their release under the federal Freedom of Information Act, and after a similar lawsuit was filed by the ACLU and New York Times in federal court in New York.

FAC on December 15 argued to a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit that FAC’s lawyers are entitled to recover their attorneys’ fees from the federal government for helping ensure that the so-called “drone memos” were exposed to public scrutiny.  All three judges on the panel appeared receptive to FAC’s arguments.  A decision on the issue is forthcoming.  

FAC is represented in the Drone Memo Case by Tom Burke and his colleagues at Davis Wright Tremaine.

FAC in the California Supreme Court for Access to Government Emails and Texts

FAC, along with several media and free-speech organizations, argued before the California Supreme Court on December 2 that the public and the press are entitled to emails or texts sent by government officials on their personal email accounts or phones.  

FAC argued to the full court that communications by government officials that relate to the public’s business must be released under the California Public Records Act, regardless of whether they are contained on government-owned emails accounts or phones.  The California Court of Appeal previously decided to the contrary, and the California Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and is expected to decide the issue in coming months.

FAC strongly believes that if the Court of Appeal’s decision stands, it would severely handicap the public’s access to government information by empowering public officials to conceal communications that otherwise would be subject to public scrutiny by simply moving those communications to personal devices or email accounts. That would not only be contrary to the strong public policy supporting transparency in government, but also hinder the ability of the press and public to examine government action and promote accountability. You can read FAC’s amicus brief to the California Supreme Court here.

FAC is represented in the San Jose Emails Case by Karl Olson of Ram, Olson, Cereghino & Kopczynski.

FAC in San Francisco Federal Court Fighting Against Unconstitutional Ban on Publication

FAC has joined an amicus brief, filed January 12, 2017, opposing a bill passed by the California Legislature that purports to bar the publication of the ages of actors, producers and others that appear in the popular Internet film-industry database, IMDb.  The bill, a plainly unconstitutional attempt to ban the publication of truthful information, has been roundly criticized by constitutional scholars across the political spectrum.   

FAC in Ventura County Superior Court For Access to Voicemails of Public Official Accused of Defrauding Taxpayers

In an amicus letter soon to be submitted by FAC to the Ventura County Superior Court, we will show why the voicemails of the former executive director of the Camarillo Health Care District must be released to the public.  The voicemails, nearly five hours’ worth, allegedly contain communications between the executive director and a lawyer for the Health Care District and allegedly show that the two colluded to overbill the agency to the tune of $425,000 in legal fees.  The Camarillo Acorn, a small weekly newspaper, requested the voice mails last month.  The Health Care District agreed to release the records to the Acorn, but the former executive director sued to stop their release.  FAC will argue to the court that the records must be disclosed.

FAC is represented in the Voicemails Case by Tom Burke and his colleagues at Davis Wright Tremaine.

FAC in the California Court of Appeal–Again–Seeking Access to Records of the California State Bar

Last month, FAC filed an appeal of a decision by a California trial court rejecting FAC’s eight-year-long effort to force the California State Bar to release records from its admissions database.  Since first filing suit against the State Bar in 2008, FAC has argued that the State Bar, an agency with a stated mission to protect the public, has an obligation to provide to the public information from the agency’s database of applicants.  The California Supreme Court unanimously held in 2013 that the public has a right of access to those records.  It sent the case back to the San Francisco Superior Court to determine if any privacy or other rights justify the withholding of the records.  After a six-day trial in July, that court ruled — incorrectly, FAC believes — that the records are not subject to disclosure.  FAC is asking the California Court of Appeal to reverse that decision.  

FAC is represented in the State Bar Case by James Chadwick and his colleagues at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton.