Victory in Smith v. San Jose Recognized in Legal Counsel Category
The Northern California Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ NorCal) honored James McManis with the James Madison Freedom of Information Award for the firm’s victory in the case of Smith v. San Jose.
McManis and Karl Olson were selected in the Legal Counsel category for successfully arguing before the California Supreme Court to establish that records related to public business that are prepared, owned, used, or retained by public officials on their personal electronic accounts and devices are “public records” subject to the California Public Records Act.
Smith v. San Jose, which paralleled issues of the 2016 election, began when Ted Smith suspected that San Jose officials were using their private phones and email accounts to conceal dealings with former Mayor Tom McEnery, concerning a development in downtown San Jose financed by a loan from the City’s Redevelopment Agency.
Smith argued that such communications, which concerned city business, should be public, regardless of how they are created, communicated or stored. The city refused to turn over emails that concerned public business, but were sent or received on the private devices of city officials.
Once in the California Supreme Court, the case drew intense interest from amici, including the legal arm of the California School Boards Association and the League of California Cities on behalf of San Jose. Groups supporting Smith included California Newspaper Publishers Association, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the public has a right to see emails about public business on government officials’ personal devices, creating a statewide precedent for records disclosure. The ruling applies to all public entities in California —from water districts to school districts to cities, counties and state agencies.
The James Madison Freedom of Information Award recognizes Northern California organizations and individuals who have made significant contributions to advancing freedom of information and expression in the spirit of James Madison, the creative force behind the First Amendment.
The Society of Professional Journalists is a nation-wide journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, the organization promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry through the daily work of its nearly 10,000 members, works to inspire and educate current and future journalists through professional development, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press through its advocacy efforts.