Everything on a public official’s computer is not necessarily a public record, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
In a unanimous decision, the justices rejected arguments by attorneys for The Arizona Republic that people are entitled to see all the e-mails on the computer of former Pinal County Manager Stanley Griffis, who recently pleaded guilty to fraud.
The court said that doesn’t change even if public resources may have been used to create the document.
The lawsuit stems from a request for all of Griffis’ incoming and outgoing e-mails for a two-month period.
A trial judge had approved it.
But Chief Justice Ruth McGregor wrote for the state’s highest court that this would mean that “every note made on government-owned paper, located in a government office, written with a government-owned pen, or composed on a government-owned computer would presumably be a public record.”
Wednesday’s ruling does contain a partial victory for the newspaper and others who want more access to records: The justices said any dispute over whether specific records are in fact public must be resolved by a judge.
Griffis was county manager for 16 years before being suspended and subsequently retiring amid a criminal investigation into whether he had used money belonging to the sheriff’s department to purchase weapons. He is awaiting sentencing.