Smith v. San Jose Recognized as Top Appellate Reversal
McManis Faulkner was honored by the Daily Journal in its “Top Verdicts” supplement. The firm’s victory in the California Supreme Court in Smith v. San Jose was recognized as one of the year’s “Top Five Appellate Reversals.”
The case, 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 real estate development in downtown San Jose financed by a $6 million loan from the City’s Redevelopment Agency.
Smith argued all communications about city business should be public, regardless of how they are created, communicated, or stored. The City refused to turn over emails that admittedly concerned public business, but were sent or received on the private devices of City officials.
The Santa Clara Superior Court granted summary judgment. The Sixth District Court of Appeal vacated the order, but the California Supreme Court granted review.
Once in the Supreme Court, the case drew intense interest from amici including the California School Boards Association and the League of California Cities on behalf of San Jose. Groups supporting Smith included the 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, closing a loophole that justices said could have allowed the "most sensitive and potentially damning" communications to be shielded.
The landmark decision set 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.
Led by James McManis, the McManis Faulkner team included Christine Peek, Matthew Schechter, Tyler Atkinson and Jennifer Murakami.