May 18, 2009

San Bernardino County Assessor's Office Case Raises Government Record Questions

WHEN SPECIAL county counsel John Hueston investigated alleged corruption in the San Bernardino County assessor's office, he had hoped to find a cache of e-mails that would shed light on how the office operated under Bill Postmus.

Instead, Hueston found little information of value in the county's computer system. That was no accident, his report said.

"Mr. Postmus and others utilized the Blackberry messenger process, where they could communicate and bypass the county servers," said the Hueston report, released Tuesday.

E-mails and other written electronic communications to and from government officials are records that, in most cases, must be made available to the public under guidelines set by state law. They also can be vital in criminal investigations.

At least two courts have ruled that even when the messages travel through personal equipment and accounts, they are public records.

County officials hired Hueston, a member of the Los Angeles law firm Irell & Manella, to investigate allegations of time-card fraud and other problems under the tenure of Postmus, who resigned from the assessor job in February. Postmus was elected to the assessor position in 2006 after serving on the county Board of Supervisors for six years.

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