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California FOIA decision could be bad news for EPA on Windsorgate

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A Santa Clara County, California, judge's decision ordering local officials there to turn over their private emails linked to their conduct of official business could have significance for Washington's Windsorgate scandal at the Environmental Protection Agency, according to one of the central players in the continuing case.

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James P. Kleinberg ruled Friday that county offcials must comply with an environmental activist's request for copies of private email and texting documents related to the conduct of official business by the mayor and city council members in San Jose. The ruling also covers emails and texting documents created by members of a San Jose redevelopment agency.

"This is an important decision," Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, told the Contra Costa Times newspaper. "It's an important advance. The judge has got to be right. Because if he's not right, then personal email accounts and personal texting accounts would constitute such a huge loophole in open government laws that they would basically render the basic requirements of the law meaningless."

Scheer's group is a Santa Rosa-based nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing free speech and open government.

Among the issues on the table in the Windsorgate scandal is the use of private email and texting accounts by EPA officials doing official business in a manner that may circumvent the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Christopher Hormer, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the author of a recently published book - The Liberal War Against Transparency - exposing FOIA abuses at EPA going back to the Clinton administration, is a plaintiff in multiple cases against the environmental agency stemming from its denial of his and the conservative think tank's requests for documents regarding the Obama administration's coal policies.

A federal district court ordered EPA last year to turn over more than 12,000 EPA emails sent to and from former Administrator Lisa Jackson and other senior officials using the non de plume of "Richard Windsor."

Regarding the California case, Horner told The Washington Examiner that "the [Contra Costa Times] story states, 'The suit came as a growing nationwide battle waged over the line between government officials' public and private lives...' In truth, the line is pretty clear. What we have seen with the Obama administration and some fellow travelers in state governments, it just isn't respected.

"This latest affirmation of the obvious -- choosing to create public records on a private resource doesn't make those records any less public -- is more than a little relevant to one FOIA case we have against EPA in court, and two more that may get there soon."

Go here for more informatiion on the Windsorgate scandal at EPA.

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