Sacramento Mayor Sues His City Attorney and Newspaper over Release of Emails

Monday, July 06, 2015
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson

Sacramento Mayor (and former NBA star) Kevin Johnson filed a lawsuit against his city attorney and a local weekly newspaper last week to prevent the release of e-mail exchanges with lawyers about a contentious subject.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Christopher Krueger told the parties last Thursday to take a timeout and try to determine which of the 102 e-mails in question they think are subject to lawyer/client privilege. News accounts differed over how long he gave them to produce the so-called “privilege log.” Courthouse News Service said one week, the Los Angeles Times said two weeks and the Sacramento Bee said there was no timetable for creating the list.  

The Sacramento News & Review and the Sacramento Bee filed Public Records Act requests with the city to access a private Gmail account Johnson sometimes used to do municipal business, but the focus has been on those communications related to the mayor’s involvement with the now-bankrupt National Conference of Black Mayors (NCBM).

He was president of the organization for its final year, until May 2014. He formed a new organization, the African American Mayors Association, afterward amid a hail of lawsuits in a sea of vitriol.

Critics said he gutted the organization after failing to convert it into a vehicle to promote his own political brand nationally. The two-term Sacramento mayor is a former president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and has been talked about as a potential Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.

Johnson said the organization was corrupt and unfixable when he became president. The sports website Deadspin, in a caustic takedown of Johnson, tells a sordid tale, not completely substantiated, of credit card abuse, forgery, grabbing of the executive director’s butt, a power-point presentation on staging a coup to control the conference and some very angry, determined litigants.

Conference Executive Director Vanessa Williams, who feels she was smeared with credit card fraud charges and blamed for the organization’s financial problems, said, “Everybody knows Kevin Johnson is an asshole, but nobody’s willing to be the first person to say that.” She was accused of spending $623,000 of Conference money on private Christian school tuition and stuff from Tiffany’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Juicy Couture, Louis Vuitton, ticket broker StubHub and Toys ‘R’ Us.

Former East Orange, New Jersey Mayor Robert Bowser, who sued, claiming he was the legitimate president in 2014, not Johnson, called him a “fake” and Midfield, Alabama Mayor Gary R. Richardson said he was a “coward.” But it was Chesilhurst, New Jersey Mayor Michael Blunt who delivered the cruelest smackdown: “He’s just a basketball player. A basketball player with no rings.”

Johnson communicated regularly with lawyers about NCBM via his private Gmail account. Those emails appear to be considered privileged lawyer/client communications. But Johnson cc’d local Sacramento officials on some of the emails, putting them on government servers.

The city attorney was prepared to turn them over when Johnson sued. The Sacramento Bee signaled that it would fine with whatever “privilege log” the city attorney comes up with, but the News & Review wants them all. 

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

City Agrees to Take More Time Before Releasing Mayor Johnson’s Emails (by Dale Kasler, Sacramento Bee)

Sacramento Mayor Sues His Own City (by Nick Cahill, Courthouse News Service)

Sacramento Mayor Moves to Block City's Release of Certain Emails (by Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times)

Question of Privilege Raised at Hearing Over Sacramento Mayor’s Private E-Mails (by Matthew Keys, The Desk)

How Kevin Johnson Destroyed a Black Mayors Group to Promote His Brand (by Dave McKenna, Deadspin)

If Black Mayors Can’t Run Their Own Organization, How Can They Run Their Cities? (by Michael H. Cottman, BlackAmericaWeb)

National Conference of Black Mayors and Mayor Kevin Johnson v. Sacramento City Attorney’s Office and Chico Community Publishing (Sacramento County Superior Court)

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