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City attorney sued by watchdog group for using private account for work-related emails

Posted Feb 3, 2014 1:45 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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An open government watchdog group has sued the city attorney for San Diego, in an effort to prevent him from using a private email account for communications related to his work.

San Diegans for Open Government contends this practice by City Attorney Jan Goldsmith violates the California Public Records Act. Taking this approach also allows Goldsmith to "selectively" make certain emails public, thus enabling him to conceal certain emails and thus put a positive spin on matters that might otherwise be controversial, the suit says.

Filed last week in superior court, the suit seeks a court order requiring Goldsmith to comply with the statute, according to Courthouse News and the San Diego Reader.

The articles don't include any comment from Goldsmith. However, in an interview last month, the 63-year-old lawyer discussed with San Diego City Beat the political challenge posed by being an elected city attorney.

“One of the things I do do well is being able to separate, ‘Here are my views; here’s my law practice,’" he said at one point, explaining that he does his job regardless of whether he personally agrees with positions on which he is asked to provide legal advice.

A written response provided by Goldsmith's office to the Reader states:

"Cory Briggs has already filed a lawsuit seeking Interim Mayor Todd Gloria's private records such as emails. That case is pending in superior court. In response, the City of San Diego's legal position—in that case and any others—is to follow two appellate court decisions which, relying upon the language in the law, held that public agencies have an obligation to produce disclosable public records in the possession of the agency, but that does not extend to private records not in the agency’s possession. Whether to expand obligations under the law is up to the legislature."

Related coverage:

KBPS: "Open Government Ballot Measure To Go Before San Diego City Council"

City of San Diego (PDF): "Proposed amendments to Charter sections relating to access to government records"

San Diego Reader: "Off the record: city attorney and U-T reporters"

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