Orange County supervisors voted in closed session this week to fight a public records lawsuit by Voice of OC seeking government emails related to Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s controversial citizen’s arrest of a man at a Wahoo’s restaurant last April.
The lawsuit demands the release of emails between Spitzer and county spokeswoman Jean Pasco regarding the incident, including a public statement that Spitzer apparently wanted sent to the media. Pasco never sent the statement.
In early March, Voice of OC reporter Adam Elmahrek filed a Public Records Act request for the emails as part of his research for a story about Spitzer successfully pressuring the Orange County Register to change its online article about the incident.
The county declined to release the records, citing exemptions in the records law for preliminary drafts and “pre-decisional documents…subject to the deliberative process privilege.”
Voice of OC then filed a Public Records Act lawsuit, seeking a court order requiring the county to release the records. The lawsuit argues that the records sought by the news organization are not covered by any exemptions and must be released.
(Click here to read Voice of OC’s lawsuit seeking the emails.)
The county declined to comment this week on the case.
Voice of OC’s publisher, Norberto Santana, Jr., says the case cuts to the core of the public’s right to know about what happens in their government.
“County of Orange officials – led by Supervisor Spitzer – are arguing that without an ability to operate in total secrecy, local government as we know it would grind to a halt,” Santana said. “We believe it is vitally important to our democracy to challenge that assertion.”
The supervisors’ decision to fight the suit will require Voice of OC to spend thousands of dollars to pursue the case in court.
To help fund this effort, the news agency is accepting donations through an online donation campaign at Generosity.com.
(Click here to visit the donate page and for more info on supporting the lawsuit.)
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.