SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The California Legislature must release the calendars, appointment books and meeting schedules of two former lawmakers facing separate federal corruption prosecutions, a judge ruled.
The decision released Thursday is a win for the Bay Area News Group and the Los Angeles News Group, which sued after the Legislature denied reporters’ requests for records involving former Sens. Ron Calderon and Leland Yee.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny last month tentatively sided with the newspaper. In his final ruling, Kenny wrote that the public’s interest outweighed the state Senate’s interest in keeping the records private.
“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,” Kenny wrote.
Calderon and Yee were suspended after their offices were raided by the FBI last year. Both have pleaded not guilty to federal charges.
The Legislature operates under its own, more restrictive open records law called the Legislative Open Records Act. Lawmakers for years have claimed that meeting and event schedules and other documents are not subject to disclosure.
“To get calendars is huge,” Duffy Carolan, attorney for Bay Area News Group, told the Oakland Tribune (http://bayareane.ws/1FBZB89 ). “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.”
In a statement released by his office, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon said the Senate will follow the judge’s order and make the documents available as soon as possible.
“The judge’s decision fairly balances the interests at stake and it is one that I support. We have no plans to appeal,” he said.
Kenny ordered the release of calendar entries for specific dates mentioned in the indictments. He also granted access to calendar entries involving meetings with people who were indicted with the ex-lawmakers. He denied requests for emails or expense reports on Yee’s meetings with top campaign donation solicitors.
Lawyers for both sides must meet and catalogue the records to be handed over.
“It’s a significant win for access, and it’s a significant loss for the legislative leadership and their lawyers,” First Amendment Coalition Executive Director Peter Scheer said.
Information from: The Oakland Tribune, http://www.oaklandtribune.com