The city of Sacramento must preserve 15 million emails for review out of more than 80 million emails on its server, a Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled Friday after two Sacramentans 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. The 15 million are a portion of more than 80 million stored emails subject to the city’s deletion policy.
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.
The 15 million ordered held by the court will be reviewed and reduced by the city and petitioners, but the remaining emails are not subject to the court order and are being deleted.
Never miss a local story.
Sign up today for a free 30 day free trial of unlimited digital access.
“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.
City officials, however, said that the court merely affirmed what the city already had agreed to do – preserve 15 million messages pertaining to a list of subjects, departments and individuals the group had highlighted. The group said Thursday that it wanted the court to force the city to keep more emails than that.
The judge ordered us to do what we were willing to do. We’re willing to release public records
Sacramento City Attorney James Sanchez, following Chang’s ruling
Chang 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.
Related stories from Sacramento Bee
“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.”
Editor’s note (July 27): This story has been updated to explain that the 15 million emails are a subset of more than 80 million emails that were under consideration. The deck headlines also have been corrected; a previous version incorrectly suggested that the court ordered the city to stop all deletion of emails, but the city is allowed to eliminate more than 65 million.