Judicial Watch, Inc. v. City of Phoenix (12/22/2011)

January 3, 2012

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That Mayor’s Personal Privacy Interest Do Not Outweigh Public’s Interest In Disclosure of Public Records Because The City Failed To Show Specifically How Particular Disclosures Would Compromise the Mayor’s Privacy Interest.

The Phoenix Police department provides a security detail for the mayor’s protection.  Four officers are with the mayor most days of the week when the mayor is away from his home.  Between 2007 and 2009, the security detail kept records of their activities, including handwritten logs called “Worksheets.”  The Worksheets included information about the times, locations, and officers present at the Mayor’s unscheduled events during a day.  The unscheduled events often involved personal errands, meals, and the like. 

In December 2009, Judicial Watch made a public records request to the Phoenix Police Department asking for all “activity logs” for the Mayor’s security detail.  The City produced some records (such as “Annotated Calendars” of public events) but refused to allow inspection of the Worksheets.  The City argued that the Worksheets contained information that could undermine the Mayor’s safety, revealed his private and confidential information, and was protected by the “deliberative process privilege.”  Judicial Watch filed a special action in the superior court, seeking to compel the City to produce the Worksheets. 

After an evidentiary hearing and in camera review of the Worksheets, the superior court concluded that the Worksheets are public records under A.R.S. § 39-121.  The court found that the Mayor’s privacy interest in the Worksheets was insufficient to overcome the presumption favoring inspection. Ultimately, however, the superior court found that security and confidentiality concerns outweighed the public’s interest in disclosure.  The records, for example, would allow someone to track and predict the Mayor’s movements and whereabouts.  Moreover, it was not “necessary or feasible” to produce redacted versions of the Worksheets because redacted versions would in large part duplicate the “Annotated Calendars.”  Both parties appealed.

In a unanimous opinion, the Court of Appeals held that the City had to produce redacted Worksheets.  There was no dispute that the Worksheets are “public records” or that some of the information raised security and confidentiality concerns.  The dispute on appeal centered on whether it was “necessary or feasible” to allow inspection of redacted Worksheets. 

Judicial Watch contended that the City had never demonstrated that the redacted Worksheets would merely duplicate the Annotated Calendars.  The Court agreed.  Having reviewed a portion of the Worksheets in camera, the Court concluded that redacted Worksheets would not merely duplicate the Annotated Calendars and would show additional information.  Thus, the Court held that it was error to conclude that production of redacted Worksheets was unnecessary.  The Court also held that making redacted versions available was “feasible” because redacting the approximately 600 pages of Worksheets was not too burdensome when compared with other cases where the government was allowed to withhold production.

Turning to the City’s cross-appeal, the Court affirmed that the Mayor’s personal privacy interests were insufficient to justify non-disclosure.  The City argued that the public had little or no legitimate interest in seeing personal details about the Mayor’s activities.  Among other things, the City asserted that the Mayor did not give up all privacy when he took office and the personal details in the Worksheets were unrelated to his performance of his duties. 

The Court rejected the City’s arguments.  Although the Mayor undoubtedly has a legitimate interest in personal privacy, to defeat a public records request for inspection, the government must “specifically demonstrat[e] how release of particular information would adversely affect an official’s privacy interest.”  The City failed to do so and thus the City’s “global generalities of possible harm” were not adequate to defeat the public’s interest in disclosure.  The Court therefore remanded for a judgment requiring the City to make redacted versions of the Worksheets available for inspection.

Presiding Judge Timmer authored the opinion.  Judges Irvine and Barker concurred.