San José releases trove of mayor’s emails in FAC public records case

The fight for transparency continues


Earlier this year, we filed a lawsuit to bring more transparency to San José City Hall. The lawsuit seeks to enforce the California Public Records Act after city officials failed to turn over emails, text messages and other documents we believe the public was entitled to see.

This month, we prevailed in forcing the city to turn over a batch of records — records that should have been made public a long time ago. In addition to being materials the public was clearly entitled to access, they were newsworthy.

At the heart of the case is San José Mayor Sam Liccardo’s use of private email and devices to do city business. When public officials in California use personal accounts to do the public’s business, those records are subject to our state’s sunshine laws. The California Supreme Court has made that clear.

That means officials must sufficiently search for those records when asked and turn them over in response to Public Records Act requests. We went to court because it was clear San José city officials had fallen short of their obligations. And this new disclosure of records — eight months after we filed suit — confirms this.

The best practice is to do public business only on public accounts. But if public officials use private accounts and devices to carry out their official duties, they still must comply with public access requirements.

Our lawsuit is not over. But this positive development is an important step in ensuring accountability. We’ll keep you posted as the case develops.

Thank you for your interest in our work,

Ginny LaRoe
Programs & Outreach Director, First Amendment Coalition

Ramona Giwargis
Co-founder and CEO, San José Spotlight 


Spotlight: San José releases withheld Liccardo emails

A new trove of private emails released by San José detail Mayor Sam Liccardo’s conversations with city officials and consultants on issues like funding for homelessness projects, the airport connector and gun control, San José Spotlight reporter Tran Nguyen writes, but raises more questions about the city’s practice of improperly withholding records.

Read more in the San José Spotlight

Giwargis: Why we sued to get emails

“The usage of private email to conduct public business makes it difficult for reporters—and residents—to know what documents exist and to hold their government officials accountable for releasing those records,” says Ramona Giwargis, San José Spotlight co-founder and CEO.

Read the Q&A in California Local