The Bay Area News Group (BANG) and the Los Angeles News Group (LANG) won their battle with the state legislature this week, as a Sacramento County judge ruled that former Democratic state Sens. Leland Yee and Ronald S. Calderon must make their meeting schedules, office calendars and assorted official records available to the public.
The California State Senate had fought the release of the records, asserting that the Legislative Open Records Act exempted them from being made public. A BANG reporter and a LANG reporter filed requests in April and June 2014 asking for the records that matched dates and individuals mentioned in federal indictments, but the Senate Rules Committee denied the requests, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
However, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenney ruled Yee and Calderon, who were indicted on charges of corruption and left their offices in 2014, had to release the information that the news organizations wanted because it discussed meetings referred to in federal indictments. He said, “The public interest in the disclosure of the requested documents is pronounced,” adding that the legislature did not show that “legislative privilege prohibits the disclosure of the requested documents.” He noted, “The disclosure of the calendars may indicate whether others were aware of the activities, or whether the legislators worked to hide the purpose of the meetings and identities of those with whom they were meeting,” pointing out that the Legislature’s claim that releasing the documents would pose a security risk was unfounded, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Kenney also ruled that the office records of Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), the current Senate leader, be kept private, as he has not been accused of any illegal activity revolving around his job. Kenney argued that the necessity of de León’s “deliberative” process superseded the public’s right to know.
Duffy Carolan, representing the newspapers, told the Times that her clients were “very happy,” adding, “To get calendars is huge. And it really is a warning shot to public officials that their calendars are not sacrosanct. And that who they are meeting with and what they are doing on the public dime when wrongdoing is involved can’t be kept from the public.”
The Legislature has 20 days to appeal.