Arizona: Saying email is private doesn’t make it private

That’s how Roger Matus describes it at Death By Email and I don’t see any reason to mess with perfection.

The case was the result as an effort to get the emails of suspended Pinal (AZ) County manager Stanley Griffis. He allegedly purchased guns and ammunition with public funds. But the investigation grew until, according to AZ Central, Griffis pleading guilty to six felonies, agreeing to pay over half-a-million dollars in restitution and the possibility of serving up to 51 years in prison.

The Republic asked for the emails to do an investigation and the country agreed to release them. Griffis then filed to block the release arguing that the emails were private. The Court said that Griffis claim was not sufficient to convince the court that the emails were not public records. So, now a judge must review them.

Of note here is that while the trial court that first heard the case sided with The Republic’s view that the emails (having been produced on a government computer) should be assumed to be public, an intermediary court overturned that judgment. (That’s alarming.) The Arizona Supreme Court had to overturn that court’s decision, which it did here: Arizona Supreme Court decision in Griffiths v. Phoenix Newspaper.

The Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press covers it here: Judge must decide whether email is private. They note:

The court said when a public official proclaims documents stored on a government computer system to be private, requesters must be able to ask a judge to look at the disputed records in chambers to determine whether that claim of privacy is valid. Otherwise, the court said, those public officials could too easily circumvent the strong presumption of openness in Arizona’s public records law.

To say the least.

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