County releases contested files

County attorneys on Friday released logs of documents and calendar entries sought in a lawsuit filed against the county by The Sun and the California First Amendment Coalition.

The logs list 94 e-mails and more than 150 calendar entries that San Bernardino County attorneys argued should not be made public.

San Bernardino Superior Court Judge John P. Wade ordered the county to release the logs, two e-mails and redacted versions of the calendars of former Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Postmus and current board Chairman Paul Biane in March.

The county turned over the e-mails and calendars and sought a stay on the order to release the logs, but was turned down by the 4th District Court of Appeal and the state Supreme Court.

County spokesman David Wert said Friday that the county would have no comment.

The newspaper and the coalition sued the county in an effort to obtain documents that might give insight into the activities of Postmus during two major wildfires that destroyed more than 50 homes in July 2006.

County officials have given conflicting accounts of Postmus' activities during the fires, with some claiming he was on vacation but in constant contact with county officials planning the response to the fires, and others claiming he was absent and no one had heard from him.

Karl Olson, an attorney representing the newspaper and the First Amendment Coalition, praised the release of the documents.

"We are pleased that the Supreme Court has turned away the county's last effort to block disclosure of the logs of the e-mails and calendars that it withheld," Olson said. "Now that we have the logs, they reveal just how aggressive the county has been about withholding documents that are directly related to the conduct of the people's business and the spending of taxpayer money."

The logs list 94 e-mails sent to Postmus and other county officials in August 2006 and scores of calendar entries along with short descriptions of the contents of each and the reason they shouldn't be made public.

In the case of two e-mails the judge ordered released - a press release and a news story - county attorneys claimed that making them public would compromise the "deliberative process" of the public officials in question.

County attorneys described the press release, which presumably was sent to constituents and media outlets, as "e-mail regarding public information on County facilities." The e-mail was sent from "Postmus News." The recipients are not listed in the log.

The copy of the news story, from current Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt to Postmus, is described as "e-mail between staff member and supervisor regarding public information about County activities."

At the time, Mitzelfelt was Postmus' chief of staff.

County attorneys argued that making these and other e-mails public would hinder elected officials in carrying out their duties.

Many of the e-mails refer to public information, scheduling meetings, fiscal issues or county facilities.

Redacted calendar entries were described as meetings with unnamed constituents or county employees or as "personal."

The calendars show no entries for Postmus' vacation, and county attorneys have claimed there are no communications or records of communications between Postmus and other county officials in all of June or July 2006, when the fires occurred.

Frank Pine is senior managing editor of The Sun. Reach him via e-mail at frank.pine@sbsun.com or by phone at (909) 386-3841.

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