D.C. Council Chair Says 'More Clear' Email Policy Needed

The D.C. government "has got to get a more clear policy" on government email sent from personal accounts, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (Council Chair Phil MendelsonD) told The Washington Post in response to the D.C. Open Government Coalition's Oct. 16 lawsuit against the Council of the District of Columbia. However, Mendelson told the Post, he disagrees with the Coalition's legal claims and believes the lawsuit will fail.

The Coalition sued when the Council refused to provide emails concerning public business that were sent from Councilmembers' personal accounts. “The Coalition’s lawsuit seeks to affirm that a public record is determined by its substance and content, not by what email account or device was used to create it,” said James McLaughlin, a member of the Coalition’s board and co-chairman of its legal committee. Mendelson told the Post he agrees that “government business should be conducted on government accounts” and that the Council may look into a new policy as early as the next Council period, starting in January.

Decisions in at least seven other states have ruled that such emails are public records under their state's open records laws, including the most recent Oct. 13 ruling in Alaska. Washington attorney Laura Handman, of Davis Wright & Tremaine, told The BLT: The Blog of LegalTimes that these jurisdictions have agreed records should be public based on "subject matter and what you're doing and not from where you're doing it."

An initial scheduling conference is set for January 18 before D.C. Superior Court Judge Laura Cordero.