San Jose Mayor Violated Public Records Laws, Lawsuit Claims

Written by Vincent Cain

A lawsuit against San Jose and the mayor, Sam Liccardo, claims Liccardo used a private email account to do city business and avoid public record laws. In one email, the lawsuit alleges, that the mayor referred a conversation to his personal account, writing, “I’m going to delete this from my public account.” 

On Thursday, the 200-page lawsuit was filed with the Santa Clara County Superior Court, exhibiting multiple examples of the city failing to give up public records requested by a news organization, withholding documents, and blacking-out information.

The San Jose Spotlight and the First Amendment Coalition filed the lawsuit, attempting to force the city of San Jose to release the requested records. David Snyder, the executive director of the coalition, said, “San Jose has failed to disclose these records in a timely manner again and again and again.” Additionally, the lawsuit seeks to force city officials to stop using personal devices for public matters through court orders or make sure that government email addresses are copied on communications.

Over about six months, between December 2020 and May 2021, the San Jose Spotlight requested public records on various city matters, as well as conversations between Liccardo and lobbyists, constituents, and others, “We were told certain records didn’t exist, even when we had copies of those records,” Spotlight co-founder and CEO Ramona Giwargis told a news conference. “We uncovered how the mayor almost exclusively used his private email to do city business and deleted a public email thread.”

In 2017 the California Supreme court ruled that government employees and elected officials conducting public business on private devices are subject to California’s public records law. Liccardo’s office has since responded to the lawsuit, claiming his staff spent “hundreds of hours reviewing and producing thousands of pages of documents” in response to the record requests. “Although our team mistakenly missed two emails in our good faith effort to respond to one PRA request, we provided both of those emails in a subsequent request,” the mayor’s chief of staff, Jim Reed, said in a statement. The statement provided by Reed did not address the allegations of Liccardo using his personal email account.

Photo Cred: Kyle Martin/ San Jose Spotlight