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BURBANK : Writer Loses Appeal for Phone Records

September 18, 1993|ED BOND

A columnist for a Burbank newspaper has lost a court appeal in his attempt to get the telephone records of members of the Burbank City Council.

Will Rogers, a free-lance writer and columnist for the Burbank Leader, Glendale News-Press and the Foothill Leader, had requested the phone records of council members' home offices, cellular phones and for phone calls made from hotels during trips on council business. He had made six written and several oral requests between December, 1991, and June, 1992, when he sued.

"The court's ruling is a victory for the citizens of Burbank," Burbank Mayor George Battey Jr. said in a news release. "It ensures that citizens representing a broad spectrum of views can without fear freely communicate with their elected officials on critical issues."

The city provided Rogers 750 pages of copies of the bills for three years, showing who paid the bill and the location the call went to, but the phone numbers themselves were blanked out, said Ben Kaufman, the lawyer who represented the city in a trial in January and in a hearing before the California Court of Appeals last week.

Rogers sued, claiming the city had violated the California Public Records Act. He could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon,

According to court documents, the decision, issued Tuesday, was based in part on a similar 1991 case in which the California Supreme Court rejected an attempt by the Los Angeles Times to obtain the daily, weekly and monthly calendars and schedules of former Gov. George Deukmejian.

The decision protects the public's "First Amendment rights to petition government to redress grievances," Kaufman said. "We are protecting the deliberation and decision-making process.

"People who contact their council members in private have a right to have the privacy respected," Kaufman said.

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