I still beg to differ -- despite legal opinions to the contrary in the newspaper today -- with the notion that Friday's Supreme Court decision in the Quillin e-mail case isn't a blow to the Freedom of Information Act.
It makes it harder and more expensive to sue and gives government officials like Buddy Villines another way to stymie legitimate inquiry.
It may make it all but impossible to pursue legitimate inquiry on public performance in some cases, including this one.
For example: Is a note from an embezzling county comptroller to his girlfriend, looking forward to a sexual escapade, purely personal? What if the note says, "Can't wait to have sex with you when I'm in St. Louis next week." What if St. Louis is a destination paid for by the county? The judge reviewing these notes in camera may have no notion of what avenues are being pursued by people seeking the records or the means to determine when the personal is, in fact, officially important.
Or what about this? If an embezzling county official sends 40 or 50 e-mails in the course of an eight-hour day -- all about intimate clothing, surgical procedures financed by unknown means, sexual romps -- might not the volume of mail and time spent on that amount to evidence of a case of illegal exaction by the employee being paid for public work while actually engaged in marathon cybersex?
I hope Judge Mary McGowan reviews the Ron Quillin case in the proper broad context. The body of his personal e-mails, particularly the fact that dozens if not hundreds are directed at a county vendor, may provide a wealth of information not yet disclosed about his spending of public money for travel, about influence of his relationship on county business, about his actual whereabouts at times he was claiming to be on county business. The judge can't know all the filters through which this information can be put. She should rule that it is impossible to separate the personal from the professional and open them all to inspection and analysis.
If she does, then let the wrong-headed Supreme Court majority review each additional piece in camera and decide if its 4-3 decision was sound.
Meanwhile, text messagers everywhere in public employment are hoping the Court sticks with its decision to turn off a good measure of the sunshine in the state's sunshine law.
Here's a link to D-G reporting on the case today. Copy and paste to see it free.