It’s Day 16 of Petty Watch and we’re still waiting to see Southeastern Economic Development Corp. Corporate Counsel Regina Petty’s detailed legal bills.
Brian Trotier, the new interim leader at SEDC, just called me for a briefing on the ongoing battle we’ve been fighting to get the documents from the agency.
“One of the things I want to focus on here is transparency,” Trotier said.
I have been updating this blog in excruciating detail about that battle. A re-cap: On Sept. 4, in the wake of a wide scandal at SEDC, I submitted a request under the California Public Records Act for copies of Petty’s legal bills for the last couple of years. Last week, I got copies of the bills, but all the detail about how many hours Petty worked and how much she was paid by the agency was missing from them.
Trotier found that interesting. The ex-attorney pointed out that, in an attorney-client relationship, it’s the client, not the attorney, who has the right to have information redacted on the grounds that its release might jeopardize attorney-client privilege.
In other words, it’s up to SEDC, as Petty’s client, to decide what should and should not be redacted from the documents they give me.
Trotier told me he’s going to try and find out why the number of hours and the amount Petty billed was redacted from the documents I received.
I called Diane Karpman, a legal ethicist who writes on ethics for the California Bar Journal, and asked her about the attorney-client privilege issue. Karpman agreed with Trotier. She said that how much information is made public depends on what the client wants.
“If the client says ‘I have nothing to hide,’ then the attorney has to provide everything,” Karpman said.
As I have reported, three members of the SEDC board have told me that they want me to see the bills.
It’s also worth noting that the number of hours a lawyer works for a public agency, and the amount the lawyer charges, is not privileged information anyway. Other public agencies for whom Petty is corporate counsel have provided me with bills that show how many hours she worked and how much she billed.
If Trotier and SEDC choose not to provide that information, they have to also provide a written explanation as to why the information is exempt from public disclosure. No such explanation has been offered as yet.
I will report back as soon as I hear back from Trotier on what he’s managed to find out.