Local News

City v. FFFF Lawsuit Hearing Moved to February

A preliminary injunction hearing in the case of the City of Fullerton v. the Friends for Fullerton’s Future (FFFF) Blog was originally scheduled on November 21, but has since been moved to February 27.

Also an anti-strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) motion filed by FFFF attorney Kelly Aviles against Fullerton will likely be heard the same day.

On October 24, the city of Fullerton sued the FFFF Blog for allegedly downloading and posting confidential files from the city’s Dropbox account.

The Assistant City Clerk has stated that there were a few occasions where the City inadvertently sent public records requesters (like the blog authors) a link to its entire Dropbox account.

This appears to be what happened in this case.

On October 25, Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Delaney ordered  the FFFF blog to stop publishing the confidential city documents, but did not allow for the city’s request to search the blog authors’ computers.

The judge’s Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) also prohibited passing the documents to anyone else or deleting them.

On October 31, the FFFF blog and its authors appealed this decision, and on November 7 a California appeals court ordered a “stay” on two parts of the city’s requested restraining order.

The parts of Judge Delaney’s order that were “stayed” are as follows:

1.) Defendants and their officers, agents, servants, employees, assigns, and all those acting in active concert or participation with them are hereby temporarily restrained from doing any of the following:

j.) Selling, publishing, distributing, disclosing or otherwise using any of the information or documents obtained from the City Dropbox folders and files…without the City’s permission, or a valid court order; and

k.) Conspiring with third parties to sell, publish, distribute, disclose or otherwise use any of the information or documents obtained from the City Dropbox folders and files…without the City’s permission, or a valid court order.

The appeals court also accepted an amicus brief in support of the FFFF blog by the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press, which argues that the city’s restraining order suit is a threat to First Amendment rights.

Thus, the parts which were stayed have to do with the blog’s ability to publish or distribute the materials it had obtained.

The parts of Delaney’s order which remain in effect have to do with privacy and protection of confidential city files, and are as follows:

1.) Defendants and their officers, agents, servants, employees, assigns, and all those acting in active concert or participation with them are hereby temporarily restrained from doing any of the following:

a.) Deleting, altering, destroying or removing any summaries of the documents and data…

b.) Further accessing or attempting to access the City’s private computer networks, private folders stored in any City File Sharing accounts, and/or City servers, without the City’s authorization;

c.) Deleting, altering, destroying or removing any summaries of the documents and data…

d.) Further accessing or attempting to access the City’s private computer networks, private folders stored in any City File Sharing accounts, and/or City servers, without the City’s authorization;

e.) Conspiring with any third parties to access or attempt to access the City’s private computer networks, private folders stored in any City File Sharing accounts, and/or City servers, without the City’s authorization;

f.) Removing, copying, extracting, or downloading any information or data from the City’s computer networks, private folders stored in any City File Sharing accounts, and/or City servers, without the City’s authorization;

g.) Conspiring with any third parties to remove, copy, extract or download any information or data from the City’s computer networks, private folder stored in any City File Sharing accounts, and/or City servers without the City’s authorization;

h.) Engaging in any activity that disrupts, diminishes the quality of, interferes with the performance of, or impairs the functionality of the City’s computer networks, the City’s File Sharing accounts, and/or City servers; and

i.) Conspiring with any third parties to engage in any activity that disrupts, diminishes the quality of, interferes with the performance of, or impairs the functionality of the City’s computer networks, the City’s File Sharing accounts, and/or City servers;

Meanwhile, the case has garnered attention from groups like the aforementioned the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press, calling the city’s suit a threat to First Amendment rights.

The blog’s authors contend that they did nothing illegal because they were (perhaps mistakenly) granted access to the city’s Dropbox account by the city itself.

In their response to the city’s lawsuit, FFFF attorney Kelly Aviles argues that, in suing and restricting the blog from publishing the documents, the city is violating the First Amendment rights of her clients.

“The basic purpose of the First Amendment is to prevent the government from imposing prior restraints against the press,” the response states, “Regardless of how beneficent-sounding the purposes of controlling the press might be,” the Court has “remain[ed] intensely skeptical about those measures that would allow government to insinuate itself into the editorial rooms of this Nation’s press.”

Prior to the city’s lawsuit, FFFF author Joshua Ferguson sued the city for allegedly refusing to provide public records, including those related to a 2016 incident when former city manager Joe Felz crashed into a tree and was allegedly given special treatment by the police. Following the incident, both Felz (who later pled guilty to charges brought by the OCDA) and former police chief Dan Hughes retired, and former Sgt. Corbett was charged by the OCDA with falsifying a police report; he pleaded not guilty.

The FFFF blog authors have submitted approximately 80 public records requests since December 2017 according to the city. Over the years blog has published numerous stories alleging police and city hall misconduct, and has backed up many of these stories with internal city documents.

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