Saturday, October 01, 2011

Tri-City loses effort to block use of documents

Two stories about the publicly-owned Tri-City Hospital's efforts to avoid transparency.

U-T says Tri-City lawsuit attempts to abridge free speech

Ricky Young
Sept. 26, 2011

U-T anti-SLAPP motion against Tri-City, Sept. 26
Tri-City lawsuit against the U-T, Sept. 15

The San Diego Union-Tribune filed an anti-SLAPP motion today against the Tri-City Healthcare District, alleging that the agency's Sept. 15 lawsuit against the newspaper should be stricken as an attempt to abridge free speech rights.

The public hospital district says it mistakenly sent the U-T attorney-client privileged information in response to a public-records request for executive expense records. The newspaper returned the documents in question as a courtesy, but the agency is suing to block any use of the information.

The newspaper's motion claims the healthcare district's action is a "strategic lawsuit against public participation," not allowed under California law. The motion calls the agency's lawsuit "a brazen affront to the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of the press."

The U-T Watchdog team, which filed the public-records request, has asked the district for its response to the anti-SLAPP motion and will add it to this post when it's received. The next hearing on the dispute is Oct. 21 before Superior Court Judge Joel Pressman.

Tri-City loses effort to block use of documents
The healthcare district says release to the U-T was a mistake
Aaron Burgin
Sept. 20, 2011

The San Diego Union-Tribune prevailed Tuesday in opposing the issuance of a temporary restraining order in connection with a lawsuit filed against the newspaper by Tri-City Healthcare District.

The district sought to block any use whatsoever of documents that the district sent to the U-T by regular mail and email, along with its initial response to a reporter’s request under the California Public Records Act for executive expense reports and receipts.

Inclusion of of the attached documents was a mistake, the district says, and the newspaper is not entitled to them because of attorney-client privilege.

The U-T reviewed the documents, decided they were not newsworthy at this time and returned them on Monday. Even though the U-T destroyed all copies, the healthcare district proceeded with its application for a restraining order enjoining the U-T’s use or publication of, or reliance on, the communications.

Superior Court Judge Joel Pressman denied Tri-City’s application for a temporary order Tuesday morning, and declined to prevent publication of the underlying information.

The two parties will meet again in Pressman’s courtroom Oct. 21, when the court will hear arguments on whether the district’s request for a preliminary injunction should be granted. In the meantime, the newspaper agreed to give the district reasonable notice before publishing any story that discloses the information the district claims is privileged.

The Oceanside-based district said any use of the privileged documents would put it at a competitive disadvantage.

“Additionally, publication will reveal the district’s litigation tactics and strategy,” the lawsuit states.

Jean-Paul Jassy, a Los Angeles-based attorney representing the U-T, said the restraining order sought by the district would be a prior restraint, which is when the government takes action to block communications before they occur. The U.S. Supreme Court, according to the U-T’s response to the district’s lawsuit, has repeatedly ruled that prior restraints are unconstitutional.

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