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Groups sue Calif. governor in bid to obtain aides' calendars

By The Associated Press
11.23.05

Editor's note: The Associated Press reported on Feb. 4, 2006, that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had avoided a court fight by releasing appointment calendars kept by Pat Clarey and Bonnie Reiss. Andrea Hoch, Schwarzenegger's legal affairs secretary, said in a Dec. 16, 2005, letter to one of the plaintiffs' attorneys that the administration would release the calendars with some information redacted. Peter Scheer, the California First Amendment Coalition's executive director, said last week that the plaintiffs didn't announce the governor's decision to release the calendars until they received confirmation last week from the state attorney general's office that the administration had turned over all the records sought by the lawsuit and had agreed to pay the plaintiffs' attorneys fees of about $20,000.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Two newspapers and a free-speech group sued Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to obtain appointment calendars and other records that would show who met with two of his top aides while the governor was considering the fate of hundreds of bills last year.

The lawsuit filed Nov. 21 by the California First Amendment Coalition, the San Jose Mercury News and the San Diego Daily Transcript seeks to force Schwarzenegger to reveal whom from outside the governor’s office met with, or spoke to, Patricia Clarey and Bonnie Reiss from Aug. 27 to Sept. 30, 2004.

Clarey is Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff and Reiss is his senior adviser.

At a minimum, the suit asks that the governor be ordered to release those records covering Clarey and Reiss’ meetings and telephone conversations during the week of Sept. 13-20, 2004.

“That was the peak week when most of the bills, and all of the most contentious ones, were finally signed off on or vetoed,” said Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, a nonprofit group that promotes freedom of the press and public access to information about government activities.

“Presumably, the most intensive arm-twisting and meetings and negotiations with interest groups and stakeholders would be going on during that time.”

Bills vetoed during that week included measures to raise the minimum wage, to require economic impact reports before local governments approve Wal-Mart-style superstores and to promote recreation and restoration over maximizing logging in state forests.

Scheer said the lawsuit was filed in San Diego County Superior Court because several judges there have issued opinions supporting openness in public-records cases.

After voters last November approved Proposition 59, a measure strengthening public access to government records, Schwarzenegger released his meeting schedules for the period Oct. 21, 2003, to Nov. 17, 2004.

The records revealed that the Republican governor met regularly during that period with corporate campaign contributors.

Scheer said Clarey and Reiss’ records would provide information about “all the important meetings that the governor didn’t have for reasons of time availability and maybe because he didn’t want to be too close to certain supplicants.”

“I think it’s important for the public to know who has the ear of the governor, both directly and through his top aides,” he added.

Spokeswoman Julie Soderlund said the governor’s office would not comment until it had seen a copy of the lawsuit.

But Peter Siggins, Schwarzenegger’s legal affairs secretary, said in a February letter to Scheer that releasing the information through a California Public Records Act request would discourage people from “freely communicating their views” to the governor’s office.

“Such a result would place unwarranted limits on the governor’s access to critical information concerning the matters before him and thereby inhibit his consideration of the broad spectrum of persons and viewpoints which he requires to govern effectively,” Siggins wrote.

He also said that Clarey and Reiss’ records would include personal information that would be too costly and time consuming to redact.

But the lawsuit said the records sought by the coalition and newspapers were subject to release under the Public Records Act and the state Constitution and that Schwarzenegger’s willingness to make public his own meeting schedules undercut Siggins’ arguments.


Related

Californians to vote on bid to make government more open

Proposition 59 would amend state constitution, requiring judges to interpret law broadly for access to documents, meetings — and narrowly on efforts to withhold or restrict them. 09.19.04

Group seeks California governor's records
Request comes after voters approve state constitutional amendment designed to increase public's ability to inspect government documents. 11.08.04

3 states move to improve open government
New York, Iowa governors sign bills; California Gov. Schwarzenegger agrees public records should be more readily available. 05.08.05

Schwarzenegger has hazy record on sunshine issues
Review finds that in four years since he took office, California governor, who campaigned as champion of openness, has had mixed record on FOI matters. 11.06.07

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