San Diego city councilmembers voted in closed session on March 24 to appeal a judge's decision ordering city attorney Jan Goldsmith to turn over 25,000 pages of city emails sent from his private account. Recipients of Goldsmith's private emails included reporters, fellow members of the League of California Cities, deputy city attorneys, and other elected officials.
Councilmember David Alvarez was the lone “no” vote.
By seeking appellate review, the City of San Diego will be forced to throw more cash at a case that Goldsmith has fought against since late 2013, when attorney Cory Briggs of San Diegans for Open Government sued the city and its top attorney.
On June 26, months after lawsuit was filed, Goldsmith, without council approval, approached San Diego's chief operating officer Scott Chadwick for permission to hire outside attorney Jacqueline Vinaccia to help him in his fight to keep his emails private.
Nearly one month later, city councilmembers gave $150,000 in taxpayer money to Vinaccia for Goldsmith's defense. The expense is in addition to the hundreds of hours in-house attorneys have spent on the case.
Neither seemed to help the city's case.
Goldsmith even appeared on his own behalf during a September 6, 2014, court hearing to ask the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. During his statements to the judge, the city attorney admitted to having used his private account for work purposes and that his office had made mistakes in responding to the public records request from Briggs.
"There was a miscommunication and there shouldn't have been. We should have clarified that. And, frankly, on the part of the city, whoever the miscommunication was, I apologize. I don't think we should have had those miscommunications," said Goldsmith.
His apology didn't have the impact he had hoped for.
In January of this year, Superior Court judge Joel Wohlfeil ruled against the city and Goldsmith and ordered the release of over 25,000 pages of correspondence.
"Admittedly, the City Attorney uses his personal email account to conduct City business because it is ‘convenient’ for the discharge of his official duties," ruled Wohlfeil. "Given the mandate that the [public records act] must be broadly construed, there is a strong policy argument that can be made in favor of disclosure of these emails. If the Court were to draw a bright line rule prohibiting any disclosure from a private account, then public officials could avoid the harsh light of public scrutiny whenever they desired by simply reverting to use of a private email account."
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