March 2, 2017

Smith v City of San Jose: California Supreme Court decision a victory for government transparency

The California Supreme Court got it right today.  As in way right.  As in a victory for the public and government transparency.

The matter at issue in this case involved government officials and employees use of private electronic devices and accounts while conducting government business.  Smith sued the City of San Jose after he made a public record request for emails, voice messages, and text messages pertaining to a redevelopment agency matter, which were sent through San Jose officials' private electronic devices and accounts.  The City of San Jose refused Smith's request, stating that government business conducted on personal electronic devices or accounts was not public record.  The issues addressed by the California Supreme Court (case #S218006) were:
"This case presents the following issue: Are written communications pertaining to city business, including email and text messages, which (a) are sent or received by public officials and employees on their private electronic devices using their private accounts, (b) are not stored on city servers, and (c) are not directly accessible by the city, "public records" within the meaning of the California Public Records Act?"
Let the sunshine in!

The court unanimously overturned the appellate court ruling today, finding that government business conducted on private electronic devices and accounts is public record, and subject retention and public record requests.  Download today's ruling here.

And may the sun continue to shine onto government transparency.

Mary Rae Fouts


  1. Bet the sale of burner phones will skyrocket now!

  2. All a bunch of crooks. Think the pols will comply?

    1. Can't begin to imagine how California governments are scrambling right now. The City of Pleasant Hill (where I live) previously held that city business conducted on private electronic devices and accounts was not public record. Would it surprise you to know that all PH City Council members routinely used private email addresses, rather than their city-provided email addresses?


Thanks for sharing your comments here! Mary Rae Fouts