Saturday, May 10, 2014

No Written Waiver Between SF City Attorney & NYT's Jo Becker?

I've been thinking there must be a written document granting New York Times reporter Jo Becker unprecedented access to discussions at and records from the San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and his deputies. How could she sit in on closed-door meetings of the deputies, as she gathered material for her book "Forcing the Spring", which is a very commercial for-profit endeavor?

KQED last week reported:

Some of Herrera’s staff attorneys, the real local heroes of the book, recalled their shock at having a reporter present as they prepared for the case behind closed doors. [...] Becker said in exchange for the extraordinary access she got, she promised not to write anything in the New York Times until the case had made its way through the U.S. Supreme Court.

It's not like a City or State historian was granted access for academic and historical reason, so I would expect details had to be put down on paper before Herrera allowed Becker to be present at meetings.

According to the book's index [CORRECTION: It's from the footnotes.], emails in August 2009 between deputy City Attorney Therese Steward and Ted Olson's law firm Gibson Dunn were source material for Becker.

My public records request for any written agreement or waiver or release between Herrera and Becker, or copies of emails about such documents, brought forth this reply yesterday from Gabriel Zitrin who is one of the City Attorney's staff publicists. Zitrin said: "Our Office has conducted a search and has concluded that we are in possession of no records that are responsive to the above inquiries".

I've sent followup questions to Zitrin asking if the only agreement Herrera and Becker had was verbal, and when he replies I'll share the response.

Legal eagles I asked to weigh in on the response from the City Attorney say they would have been surprised if there a written agreement to waive attorney-client privilege on Becker's behalf. To this layman, that seems mighty odd a City Attorney and a journalist with a commercial product eventually to come out of her access wouldn't have a written waiver.

Any legal experts out there want to give me a different take than what I've heard from my legal eagles?

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