Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has prepared a lawsuit asking the Sacramento Superior Court to prevent the city from releasing emails he exchanged with his private attorney dealing with his involvement in the National Conference of Black Mayors.
In a legal document dated for filing in Sacramento Superior Court on Thursday, Johnson says City Attorney James Sanchez plans to release his communications with his private law firm Ballard Spahr of Philadelphia. The documents are scheduled to be released Monday, his lawsuit says.
Johnson served as president of the NCBM from May 2013 to May 2014. His tenure was marked by litigation and conflict. Records from Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta reviewed by The Sacramento Bee, along with city emails previously obtained through the Public Records Act, show that Johnson went to great lengths to take control of NCBM in one of the most vivid examples of his national ambitions. Several members of his mayoral staff worked on NCBM.
Johnson testified in court in December 2013 that he tasked six people on his City Hall staff or employees of organizations he is affiliated with to work on business for NCBM, a historic group born of the civil rights movement that had lost much of its credibility and clout thanks to years of corrupt leadership and money mismanagement, as detailed by court documents and a federal criminal investigation of the group’s former president.
The level of Johnson’s staff and volunteer involvement was visible in emails from 2013 obtained through the Public Records Act, which showed that several individuals who identified themselves as members of the mayor’s staff formed an email group on July 10, 2013, dedicated to working on NCBM affairs. The mayor testified in Fulton County Superior Court that those individuals “were employed by me or the city or an entity.”
Johnson has since formed a new national black mayors group.
The Sacramento Bee and the Sacramento News & Review had filed separate public records requests seeking all communications from the mayor and his staff involving NCBM. The Bee was awaiting a determination from the City Attorney’s Office on whether some of the emails between Johnson and his private attorney would be excluded from review on the grounds of attorney-client privilege.
Johnson spokesman Ben Sosenko said Wednesday the mayor is seeking to protect about 100 emails between him and his private attorney. He said the City Attorney’s Office has a practice of not protecting emails between city officials and outside attorneys, and that Sanchez informed the mayor that he would have to go to court to protect those communications from public view.
“The Sacramento Bee and the Sac News and Review submitted a PRA (request), and a very small percentage of those emails were communications between the mayor and his private lawyer,” said Sosenko. “And as the Public Records Act clearly says, there is a right to a privileged attorney-client relationship.”
The court filing states that The Bee “has agreed that all privileged communications may be omitted from its public record request.” To expedite the remainder of the records request, The Bee said in an email that those attorney communications could be omitted from the public records it was requesting if the city independently determined they were privileged.
Because the city has determined those emails are not privileged, The Bee is still requesting those records.