The city has hired a Sacramento appeals court expert at $380 per-hour to fight a Tracy Press lawsuit that seeks e-mails sent by City Councilwoman Suzanne Tucker to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 2006.
City Attorney Debra Corbett said Tuesday that the city has spent $2,284 so far to hire Ann Taylor Schwing of McDonough Holland and Allen PC, a firm that specializes in appeals court cases.
The Tracy Press challenged a San Joaquin Superior Court ruling in August, when the court backed the city's contention that Tucker could withhold from the public her e-mail exchanges with the lab.
But on Oct. 18, the appeals court ordered the city to explain why the Tracy Press has no right to the e-mails.
In the city's latest court filing, Schwing argued that "no evidence establishes that Councilmember Tucker was acting as a public official when she wrote or received e-mails on her personal computer in her home."
She also argued that other correspondence that could fall in this category would include notes or letters sent to a council member's home from citizens concerned about government issues large and small.
Mark Connolly, attorney for the Tracy Press, said he has until Dec. 5 to file his response with the appeals court.
The California First Amendment Coalition, California Newspaper Publishers Association other newspapers across the state have filed briefs in support of the Tracy Press. In their amicus brief, they state that the lower court's ruling creates a loophole through which government and elected officials can exchange information outside of the public view.
The council regularly discusses the case in closed sessions, but has not reported any action to hire outside counsel, nor has it voted in open session to hire outside counsel on the case.
Corbett said she is authorized to spend up to $25,000 on legal help, and up to $50,000 if approved by the city manager. Any expenses above $50,000 must be authorized by the council.
The Press filed a lawsuit April 4 after the city refused to hand over e-mails between Tucker and the Lab regarding a proposed bio-agent laboratory at Lawrence Livermore's Site 300.
At the time, Tucker was the council's liaison to the now-defunct Tracy Tomorrow and Beyond advisory committee, and she cast a dissenting vote to support the bio-lab.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has since eliminated Site 300 as a possible home for the lab.
Contact reporter Bob Brownne at firstname.lastname@example.org.