- Associated Press - Friday, May 1, 2015

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Lawyers for the Legislature urged a judge Friday not to order the release of two former lawmakers’ calendars and meeting schedules, arguing it would have a chilling effect on lawmakers and constituents seeking privacy to discuss important issues.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ordered the documents’ release Thursday in a tentative ruling, but he has 90 days to decide whether to make his decision final.

Fred Woocher, an attorney for the state Senate, told the judge his tentative ruling “has caused great consternation” among lawmakers who believed their calendars were confidential.

In the first ruling of its kind in California, Kenny ordered the Senate to release schedules, meeting appointments and calendars requested by the Bay Area News Group and the Los Angeles News Group related to the separate federal corruption charges against former Sens. Ron Calderon and Leland Yee.

The Legislature operates under its own open records law called the Legislative Open Records Act. Despite the law’s declaration that “legislative records are open to inspection at all times,” legislative leaders have for years maintained schedules of meetings and events are exempt from disclosure.

If the ruling stands, Woocher said, “the safe course is going to be that conversation’s never going to take place or a record is never made of it.”

Woocher added most of the meetings on the dates in question involve people who have nothing to do with the corruption allegations.

“The likelihood that there is going to be any useful information released is very weak,” he said.

Duffy Carolan, representing the newspapers, said the Legislature’s interpretation of its public records law exempts virtually every correspondence as part of a deliberative process. She said the Legislature has shown no proof that anyone would be harmed by releasing the calendars.

“It’s just not enough to say, ‘It may happen,’” she said.

The judge said in his tentative ruling that the Legislature’s attorneys “provided no evidence that these documents contain any information from a private citizen, other than their identity and the fact that a meeting is taking place.”

He also said their interpretation of privileged communications was so broad it would encompass everything the Legislature does.

The ruling comes in the media’s latest effort to learn who has direct access to lawmakers and how they spend their day while on official business.

In 2011, The Associated Press, the San Jose Mercury News and the nonprofit First Amendment Coalition, which advocates for free speech and government transparency, jointly requested the daily calendars of all 120 state senators and Assembly members. The requests were rejected, citing security and privacy issues.

The governor and the other seven statewide constitutional offices, already make their calendars public.

The information the newspapers sought was related to dates referenced in criminal indictments and affidavits, or alleged meetings between the senators and people tied to bribery, arms trafficking or fraud schemes. Calderon and Yee have pleaded not guilty.

Kenny said the seriousness of the allegations outweighs the lawmakers’ right to private, deliberative process. The judge’s eventual ruling will apply only to those dates and those lawmakers.

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