City attorney Jan Goldsmith needs legal help. He has hired outside counsel in the case brought against him for his failure to turn over emails from his personal email account to reporters and others.
In a June 26 court document, Goldsmith notified the court that Escondido-based attorney Jacqueline Vinaccia, a University of San Diego alumni, would represent him and not deputy city attorneys working for him.
According to her bio, Vinaccia specializes in “Business and Municipal litigation. Homeowner Association assistance and assessment recovery and attorney fee auditing and expert witness work."
The case, filed by San Diegans for Open Government earlier this year, challenges Goldsmith's use of a personal email address for city business. In the complaint, Cory Briggs, the attorney for the government-watchdog group, claims the city attorney's office refused to provide emails from Goldsmith's personal email account that had already been handed over to the Reader and NBC San Diego.
As of now, Goldsmith's defense has relied on an interpretation of the state's public records law that states that public officials are not the same as an "agency" and therefore are exempt from turning over emails and other correspondence.
"[A]lthough there is a strong policy favoring disclosure of public records, the public's right to information is not absolute," reads a February 27 legal brief filed by Goldsmith's former counsel. "As a threshold matter, the Act requires that the requested records sought be from a state or local agency. The requested records must also be prepared, owned, used, or retained by that agency and contain information relating to the conduct of the public's business."
That argument, however, didn't fly with Superior Court judge Joel Wohlfeil. In a June 6 ruling, Wohlfeil cited the following passage: "Unless exempted by the California Public Records Act (CPRA), all public records may be examined by any member of the public, often the press, but conceivably any person with no greater interest than idle curiosity."
Goldsmith has also stated that he is not required to talk to the media and did so not as city attorney but as a citizen.
Judging by a June 27 filing, Goldsmith's attorney Vinaccia has abandoned those lines of defense and now is placing the blame on what they say was a broad request from Briggs.
"Plaintiff/Petitioner's record requests are vague, overbroad, and unduly burdensome, or fail to sufficiently identify the records sought to be reviewed and/or inspected and/or the authority permitting the review and/or inspection, in an adequately focused and specific manner that will provide the City with a meaningful opportunity to respond as otherwise permitted or required by law.
"City has complied with all the terms of the [California Public Records Act], the California Constitution and the City Charter, and has exercised its discretion in accordance with applicable law, has not acted in any arbitrary or capricious manner, and has not committed an abuse of discretion. In addition to producing documents the City believed were responsive to the Plaintiff/Petitioner's request, the City has made several attempts to clarify the scope of [the] request."
The next hearing date has not been set.