Judge orders Sacramento to save 15 million emails

Mass deletions put on hold in court decision

No timeline for email release

Other emails on city affairs will need new request

City Hall 2

In an effort to stop Sacramento from deleting hundreds of emails, watchdog group Eye on Sacramento has sued the city and requested a temporary restraining order preventing city staffers from deleting any correspondence. | Jose Luis Villegas Sacramento Bee file



The city of Sacramento must preserve 15 million emails on its server for review, a Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled Friday in a victory for two Sacramentans who requested access to the city-stored information.

After nearly two hours of argument Friday, and amid Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang’s own concerns that the petitioners’ request for records represented “a moving target,” the judge granted a preliminary injunction ordering the city to save the emails. Chang also levied an $80,000 undertaking – an $8,000 bond that plaintiffs must pay the city to review the records. Chang in June granted a temporary restraining order stopping the city from deleting the emails, giving both sides time to work out an agreement to provide the records.

“As of July 1, the city was going to destroy the emails. As of today, they’re going to save 15 million. That’s pretty good,” said attorney Paul Nicholas Boylan, who represented Sacramento residents Katy Grimes and Richard Stevenson, following the afternoon hearing.

Grimes and Stevenson filed separate public records requests in June for emails the city planned to delete as irrelevant to the public record. Grimes had asked for city emails from Jan. 1, 2008, to present, while Stevenson requested emails that were to be deleted July 1 as part of the city’s planned move to another email system.

“We’re happy with the 15 million. It’s a big victory for the public,” Boylan said.


Sacramento City Attorney James Sanchez, following Chang’s ruling

Chang, however, said Stevenson must file a new public records request for city-stored emails pertaining to city pension and retirement; Measures Q and R (the failed ballot initiatives that would have raised the sales tax to help pay for a downtown arena); and so-called “release time” – the on-job time city employees can dedicate to union and other activities.

City attorneys argued that the requests were an effort to dictate how the city retains its information and repeated its June argument that the plaintiffs’ requests were overly broad and too heavy a burden for city staff to meet. They also said emails needed to be culled from the present system before others are migrated into a new system in a process to proceed as early as August.

During the hearing, city attorneys did not indicate how long it would take to fulfill the request.

“It’s going to take us to 2030” to fulfill the email requests, Supervising Deputy City Attorney Gustavo Martinez said during the hearing, “because we have to review them all. The fact that we’ve offered 15 million (emails) is amazing. I don’t know of a city that’s done that.”

“The petitioners want to dictate the policy of the city of Sacramento,” Martinez continued. “We can’t allow two people to stop, halt and interfere with the affairs of the city. ”

But Boylan argued that the records request was not an attack on city policy, but an assertion of his plaintiffs’ right to review the emails.

“There is no greater denial of a record than destroying it before someone can see it,” Boylan told Chang. “Public records are the public’s property. We want access to as many records as possible.”

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040@dvaughnsmith