City attorney Jan Goldsmith isn't backing off in the lawsuit that accuses him of withholding emails to lobbyists and reporters from multiple private accounts .
On August 3, three days after the city council approved spending $150,000 in taxpayer money to hire outside counsel to represent Goldsmith, attorney for San Diegans for Open Government Cory Briggs sent a settlement offer to the city attorney, listing his demands. First on the list: Goldsmith would admit he was wrong to withhold the emails; second, the city would agree to amend the municipal code to add city-related emails stored on personal devices to the list of open records; third, attorney's fees. Lastly, Goldsmith would have to write a public letter to the U-T, admitting he made misleading comments to reporters covering the lawsuit.
Two days later, Goldsmith's office fired back. In an August 5 letter, deputy city attorney Catherine Richardson denied Briggs’s claim that Goldsmith and his office ever refused to hand over the emails. Instead, wrote Richardson, Briggs got trigger-happy and filed the lawsuit before making any attempts to work with the city attorney's office.
"Instead of providing any clarification or authority to the contrary, you filed the lawsuit," Richardson wrote. "It was not until you filed the lawsuit that you clarified the request to focus on emails saved to the city's email system. At that point, a search of the city's email system was conducted and a team of city employees spent months going through hundreds of emails for attorney-client privilege and other exemptions. Over 900 emails were ultimately disclosed to you.
"There was no refusal to disclose responsive documents. There was no bad motive or intent. In fact the city's actions in responding to the [public records act requests] have been consistent with existing case law. We believe your [requests] were not specific and focused as required, and your refusal to clarify the requests, until after you filed suit, to be unreasonable and harassing. We believe you should reimburse the city for the resultant taxpayer expense."
As reported by the Reader, the city attorney's office has had a poor track record of transparency and with following the state public records act. Late last year, the city attorney's office denied several requests from NBC as well as this publication to hand over emails, from Goldsmith's official city email account, with reporters at the U-T.
Richardson concluded by saying her office would make an effort to present the offer to council before their August recess but couldn't promise anything.
"Finally, when you advised us on Friday that you were going to make a settlement offer...you did not indicate or even intimate that the offer would include not only money demands, but stipulated facts and judgements, proposed changes to the municipal code and a letter to the editor at the Union Tribune. As we told you on Friday, we will make every effort to get the matter on Thursday's docket but in light of the number of issues presented in the 'offer,' we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so."
When asked if he wanted the official response (the city attorney's office accidentally sent a draft beforehand), Briggs replied, “Well if it’s going to contain the same non-sense, keep it. Either the city gets serious about settling and fessing up to its mishandling of the [public records act] requests, or we’re not settling. There’s no need to waste anyone’s time. That un-final letter, if finalized, is a major waste of time."