An attempt by journalists to force the disclosure of appointment records, calendars, schedules and related material of two former lawmakers facing corruption charges in an FBI undercover probe was put on hold Friday.
Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny heard oral arguments and is expected to make a final ruling within 90 days. The day before, Kenny issued a tentative ruling that favored the reporters in a lawsuit against the Legislature seeking access to the records.
The lawsuit was filed last year by the Bay Area News Group and the Los Angeles News Group after the Senate failed to provide information to reporters under the Legislative Public Records Act about former Democratic Sens. Ronald Calderon of Montebello and Leland Yee of San Francisco.
Both have been indicted and await trial on federal money laundering, corruption and fraud charges. Yee also has been accused of weapons trafficking. Calderon’s brother, Tom Calderon, also a former lawmaker, was indicted on money laundering charges in connection with funds that he allegedly funneled through a non-profit.
Their trials are expected begin later this year.
Attempts to get similar information from Senate Leader Kevin De Leon, D-San Diego, and Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens were rejected by Kenny at the opening of Friday’s court proceedings. An attorney for the Legislature, Fred Woocher, declined to discuss the case after the hearing, except to confirm the judge’s decision on Lara and the Senate leader. “They’re out,” he said.
An issue that emerged Friday is how broadly requests for public records should be crafted.
The Legislature argued that they should as narrowly drawn, limited and as specific as possible, such as the dates of meetings and the names of participants.
The reporters seek broader disclosure, noting that casting a wider net can uncover information of vital interest to the public. Journalists “can be completely surprised at how wonderful” the information can be, Duffy Carolan, a lawyer representing the news groups, said following the hearing.
The magnitude of the Senate corruption case demands as much scrutiny as possible, Carolan earlier told the judge, noting “the serious allegations of corrupt conduct of a historic nature.”
Kenny gave little indication how he would ultimately rule, although he expressed concern about whether people would limit their meetings, fearful that they could be misconstrued later if disclosed to the public.
“There is a potential for chilling,” Kenny said.