|Chris Volkers, Court Executive Officer for|
Sacramento County Superior Court.
In an February 7 email to Volkers, Sacramento Family Court News asked for a response - including any planned corrective measures - to our report documenting that the family court appeals unit is illegally rejecting timely appeals as being untimely. Volkers, the court's CEO, did not respond to our request.
During the same time period, an article about court reporter cutbacks published in the Sacramento Business Journal on Feb. 15 included an email response and statement from Volkers.
Government officials are by law required to provide equal treatment and access to reporters and media organizations. If Volkers has invoked a code of silence and blacklisted Sacramento Family Court News in retaliation for its reporting, taxpayers could be liable for the costs of litigation challenging the unequal treatment.
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In 2005, Sacramento County Sheriff Lou Blanas blacklisted both the Sacramento Bee and Sacramento News and Review for news reports he considered unflattering to the Sheriff's Department.
"Press freedom advocates say that using such a media-relations policy stifles Sacramento County residents' access to public information and may be illegal. 'Newspapers...they really act as proxies for the First Amendment rights of their greater readership,' said Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition...
...Scheer said Sheriff Blanas' actions, and the other similar cases don't really surprise him. 'All public officials try to control, in some way, what the press writes about them,' he said. 'But that usually gets them into trouble, legal trouble...when they go beyond spin and try to shut off coverage,'" Sacramento News and Review reported in 2005.Lake County News recently settled a lawsuit against Lake County Sheriff Frank Rivero after the sheriff blacklisted the online news publication in retaliation for coverage he perceived as critical of him. The settlement requires the sheriff to fulfill several Public Records Act requests that had been stalled, delayed or withheld, and for the news service to once again be given access to press releases from the agency. Click here for details of the Lake County litigation and settlement.
"The First Amendment has been generally recognized as prohibiting officials from reacting to unwelcome news coverage or editorial opinion by cutting the offending journalist or news organization off from access opportunities freely afforded to others. Courts have repeatedly applied this principle in a variety of contexts..." wrote Terry Francke, general counsel for Californians Aware, a state-wide open government advocacy organization based in Carmichael.
Taxpayers reportedly will be liable for the costs of the Lake County News lawsuit.
Click here to read our Color of Law series documenting unlawful conduct by appeals unit clerks, court employees, and administrators.
For additional SFCN coverage of the people and issues in this post, click the labels below.