Group rejects “rogue” label in Sacramento mayor e-mail case

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Peter L. Haviland, a partner attorney with the law firm Ballard Spahr, speaks to reporters after a hearing at the Sacramento County Courthouse on July 2, 2015. (Photo: Matthew Keys / The Desk)

Peter L. Haviland, a partner attorney with the law firm Ballard Spahr, speaks to reporters after a hearing at the Sacramento County Courthouse on July 2, 2015. (Photo: Matthew Keys / The Desk)

An attorney representing Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson in an ongoing legal matter concerning a public records request has rejected a resolution passed by a group of black mayors that calls for a judge to order the release of 100 e-mail records containing the mayor’s conversations with his private lawyers.

Peter Haviland, a partner attorney with the private law firm Ballard Spahr, told The Desk by e-mail last week that the resolution introduced during a court hearing on Thursday emanated from a “rogue group” associating itself with the National Conference of Black Mayors (NCBM) and that the group’s resolution had no binding authority in the legal matter involving Johnson.

On July 1, Ballard Spahr filed a legal petition in Sacramento County Superior Court on behalf of Johnson and the NCBM seeking to block the release of approximately 100 e-mail messages pursuant to a public records request filed by the Sacramento News & Review, a local newspaper.

Those records, the mayor contends, are exempt from the state’s open records law because they contain attorney-client communications. The News & Review argues that the messages are subject to disclosure because the city attorney has already determined them to be public records after the mayor sent the messages from a commercial Google Mail account to the government e-mail addresses of other city officials.

The resolution, which calls for Ballard Spahr to immediately stop representing the NCBM in the legal issue filed against the newspaper, was introduced by the News & Review’s attorney at the court hearing on Thursday. Haviland told Superior Court Judge Christopher Krueger that he had not heard about the resolution and called the document produced in court “suspicious.”

In an e-mail message to The Desk on Thursday, Haviland later said the document was endorsed by a “rogue group within the NCBM” and that the resolution “has no legal authority to bind anyone.”

The resolution was enacted by the NCBM’s Board of Directors and endorsed by Mary Gary Richardson of Midfield, Alabama, the group’s sitting president. On Sunday, Richardson told The Desk confirmed the resolution introduced in court was authentic and rejected the notion that the NCBM’s board of directors had no authority over the business of the group.

Peter L. Haviland (right) addresses the court alongside Thomas Burke (left), an attorney representing the Sacramento News & Review newspaper, during a hearing on July 2, 2015. (Photo: Renée C. Byer / The Sacramento Bee / Pool)

Peter L. Haviland (right) addresses the court alongside Thomas Burke (left), an attorney representing the Sacramento News & Review newspaper, during a hearing on July 2, 2015. (Photo: Renée C. Byer / The Sacramento Bee / Pool)

“We are not a rogue group,” Richardson said. “We are, in fact, legitimately seated members of NCBM.”

Richardson did not return a follow-up inquiry asking why he felt Ballard Spahr would consider the resolution to be rogue. When asked to respond to Richardson and clarify his remarks, Haviland said he would speak on the issue at a later time.

At the court hearing on Thursday, Judge Krueger had his own concerns over the resolution, noting that it had been written earlier in the day and did not appear to have any marks suggesting its authenticity.

Krueger agreed to review the document, but did not ultimately consider it for his ruling on the matter.

Instead, Krueger ordered the three sides to come to an agreement over the creation of a so-called “privilege log” that would detail the sender and recipient of the 100 e-mail records in question. Additionally, the log will contain a summary of each e-mail record so that Krueger can determine for himself which messages are subject to disclosure and which are exempt under the public records law.

Although some of the e-mails may never be disclosed publicly, the privilege log describing all 100 messages will become a public record itself.

The judge set a deadline of July 9 for all three sides to submit a written stipulation with the court over the creation of the privilege log. On Monday, Haviland confirmed to The Desk that a stipulation would be filed with the court later this week.