Public officials in California must disclose e-mails under the state public records act, even if they come from their personal accounts. The state Supreme Court issued that ruling Thursday.
California laws generally maintain that documents created for and by government officials belong to the public, which can request them. But, as the saga around former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s e-mails demonstrated, rules about public business conducted on private e-mail are murkier.
The City of San Jose argued the mayor and city council were exempt from California’s public records act when they discussed a development deal through personal e-mail. And an appeals court agreed.
"That would have completely eviscerated the act," says Jim Ewert of the Newspaper Publishers Association, who wrote to the state Supreme Court to criticize the decision.
It would have made it so the public would have had little if any access to the very information that would have provided accountability.
The California Supreme Court justices unanimously overturned the lower court decision and said agencies must create standards for employees to save all work-related e-mails.