CPRA lawsuit filed against San Diego District Attorney's Office for withholding records contained in personal accounts and/or on personal devices
A California Public Records Act ("CPRA") lawsuit was filed today against the San Diego District Attorney's Office, the County of San Diego, and former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis for withholding public records contained in personal accounts and/or on personal devices.
Public officials are increasingly conducting public business from personal email accounts and/or on personal mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. The rise of these practices raises a key question for public records laws: if all other criteria are met, are public officials' emails from personal devices and/or personal accounts "public records," even if they are not retained on public servers?
That question has particular relevance because some public agencies are adopting email retention policies under which public records are purged from public servers after a short retention period. For example, San Diego County destroys many emails after only 60 days and San Diego Unified School District is about to implement a controversial policy to destroy most emails after one year. Read more about how some public agencies are adopting brief email retention schedules in this article by the Voice of San Diego.
The California Supreme Court settled the question of whether emails on private devices/accounts are public records in City of San Jose v. Superior Court (2017) 2 Cal.5th 608. There, the Court held definitively that "a city employee's writings about public business are not excluded from CPRA simply because they have been sent, received, or stored in a personal account." (Id. at 629.)
Today, a lawsuit was filed against the San Diego District Attorney's Office, San Diego County, and former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, alleging that public records contained in personal accounts and/or on personal devices were unlawfully withheld in response to a California Public Records Act request.
I am co-counsel on the case, along with attorneys from the Briggs Law Corporation.
You can read the complaint here.