When does a public official become a private person?

The California Third District Court of Appeal rules in a few days on a case out of the small town of Tracy, California:

Tracy public records lawsuit could have far-reaching implications.

The town’s independent newspaper, the Tracy Press, filed an open records request–and then a lawsuit, when its request was denied–for copies of e-mails sent by a Tracy City Council member to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The city council member sent the e-mails to the lab from her home computer, while at home. However, the e-mails concern public business: namely, how a public hearing about a matter concerning the lab would be conducted.

A judge ruled several months ago that the e-mails aren’t public, because they were sent from a private home computer. That’s the question the Court of Appeals will be considering.

In the meantime, questions are being raised about why the taxpayers of the city of Tracy are paying the considerable legal fees to prevent the release of the e-mails if, as the city claims, the e-mails are private.

Note the similarity to a case unfolding in Loudon County, Virginia: What distinguishes a campaign e-mail from a public document?

See also : Cloudy in California.

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