Council president Todd Gloria may have to turn over city-related text messages and emails from his private email account after all.
In a March 14 tentative ruling, superior-court judge Joel Wohlfeil ordered Gloria to begin compiling any text messages he sent during council hearings as well as any emails from his private account that contain discussions related to city business. He may be forced to turn over those messages if the judge rules they are a matter of public record and should be open for inspection.
"In view of the potential for Plaintiff obtaining the current discovery from Mr. Gloria, the Court directs the [city] and Mr. Gloria to search for and assemble the subpoenaed records and preserve them in their current condition until further order of the Court. If (and again the Court emphasizes if) the Court ultimately agrees with Plaintiff on the threshold legal issue, and upon renewed request from Plaintiff, the Court will re-visit this analysis and, if persuaded by Plaintiff, expects the CITY and Mr. Gloria to be prepared to produce the subpoenaed records to Plaintiff without undue delay."
The tentative ruling is seen as a potential victory for open-government advocates who worry that more and more public officials are hiding their tracks through the use of their private electronic devices.
The ruling is part of a case brought forward by Cory Briggs, attorney for San Diegans for Open Government, amid allegations that Gloria was communicating with applicants and other members of the public during hearings.
Wohlfeil's decision effectively ends the city's attempt at quashing the case. In his ruling, however, Wohlfeil was careful to show that he has not fully committed to the public-records pursuit.
"We are in a world of social media and mobile devices," reads the March 14 ruling. "People are constantly connected. In the legal field, we have had to deal with electronic communications in discovery, how to deal with confidentiality on social media, and how to keep privileged material secure on mobile devices. In the public records world, we are now dealing with what to do when government officials are using private devices and accounts for official business."
Continued the judge: "If (and the Court emphasizes if) the Court ultimately agrees with Plaintiff on the threshold legal issue, it is entirely possible that the balance of the Court's analysis will tip in favor of Plaintiff's need for the current discovery outweighing Mr. Gloria's privacy interests."
The ruling comes days after a California appellate court heard opening arguments on whether the mayor of San Jose broke the law by texting and emailing project proponents.