San José Spotlight v. City of San José

Public business is the public’s business. That’s the heart of this lawsuit, filed in February 2022 by San José Spotlight and the First Amendment Coalition against the city and its former mayor, Sam Liccardo, to enforce the California Public Records Act (CPRA). The lawsuit took aim at Liccardo’s use of private texts and emails to do city business in secretive ways, charging that in response to CPRA requests, the city improperly withheld a range of records, redacted information without adequate justification, and failed to conduct thorough searches for records that would shine more light on the former mayor’s interactions with lobbyists and special interests. 

As an example of the city’s flagrant disregard for its transparency obligations, the lawsuit detailed revelations that Liccardo directed a constituent to contact him on a personal email account to skirt public records laws. “I’m going to delete this email from my government account,” Liccardo wrote to the constituent, according to documents obtained and published by San José Spotlight.

As San José Spotlight and FAC attorneys told the court, state law is clear that emails and other communications about city business are public records, whether they are sent from personal or government accounts or devices.. 

The lawsuit challenged the city’s response to four public records requests by San José Spotlight or FAC dating back to December 2020. Given evidence of a practice of skirting public records requirements, San José Spotlight and FAC asked the court to order long-term policy changes.

San José Spotlight was represented by Karl Olson and Aaron Field of the law firm Cannata, O’Toole, Fickes & Olson. The First Amendment Coalition was represented by David Snyder, the organization’s Executive Director, David Loy, the organization’s Legal Director, and Monica Price, 2021-2023 Legal Fellow.

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