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Anaheim and its ex-mayor won't disclose his emails and texts, so we took them to court

LA Times logo LA Times 11/16/2022 Gabriel San Román
Former Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu has refused to publicly disclose emails and texts related to city business that he sent from his personal accounts. (Karen Tapia / Los Angeles Times) © (Karen Tapia / Los Angeles Times) Former Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu has refused to publicly disclose emails and texts related to city business that he sent from his personal accounts. (Karen Tapia / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Times has asked a judge to compel Anaheim and former Mayor Harry Sidhu to disclose records related to an FBI political corruption investigation into a self-described “cabal” that allegedly ran the city.

The paper is also seeking records of other city business, including any messages related to negotiations surrounding the aborted Angel Stadium sale, which collapsed after the probe became public.

Sidhu, who resigned in May while under criminal investigation, has refused to turn over emails and text messages from personal accounts he used to conduct city business, in response to multiple requests to Anaheim from The Times.

He claimed, through his attorney, that any such records are no longer public since he resigned in May and he invoked 5th Amendment protections against self-incrimination.

The petition, sent electronically for filing on Monday in Orange County Superior Court, alleges that Sidhu, his chief of staff and the city have violated the California Public Records Act, a government transparency law, by failing to fulfill the requests.

“Sidhu has, essentially, stolen records that are public and refuses to turn them over to their rightful owner,” said Kelly Aviles, an attorney representing The Times. “There's nothing in the 5th Amendment that would prevent him from having to comply with that.”

An FBI affidavit unsealed in May accused Sidhu of bribery, fraud, obstruction of justice and witness tampering.

It also detailed the use of his personal email account to conduct city business, including alleged leaks of confidential information to the Angels during negotiations for the city to sell Angel Stadium and surrounding parking lots to team owner Arte Moreno. Sidhu has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing.

Prompted by the affidavit's allegations, The Times sought communications between Sidhu and officials with Disney, the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and a political consulting firm that represented a real estate company headed by Moreno.

Anaheim produced three emails forwarded from Annie Mezzacappa, Sidhu’s chief of staff, to the same personal account of the former mayor's cited in the FBI affidavit.

Paul Meyer, Sidhu’s criminal defense attorney, told Anaheim City Atty. Robert Fabela in a June email obtained by The Times that records held by his client were no longer public and invoked the 5th Amendment while maintaining his client’s innocence.

The city took no legal action to address Sidhu’s refusal to turn over documents after the exchanges.

“If the city is refusing to take action," Aviles said, "it's important that we do so on behalf of the public."

Mike Lyster, Anaheim spokesman, stated that the city being named in the petition was “unnecessary” and cited the city attorney's correspondence with Meyer as evidence that Anaheim pursued the records diligently. Emails show that Fabela asked that Sidhu search his personal accounts for disclosable records.

“Those exchanges detail Anaheim’s work to meet public records obligations while dealing with a personal device beyond our control,” Lyster said. “We support the disclosure of any responsive records. Ultimately, the issues raised by the former mayor’s attorney are a matter for the courts to decide.”

Sidhu's refusal to disclose records has also called into question the thoroughness of a city-commissioned investigation into the former mayor, council members, campaign donations and awarded contracts.

A retired judge hired to oversee the probe told the Anaheim City Council during an October meeting that he didn’t believe the 5th Amendment could be invoked to withhold public records but didn’t know how that would affect the investigation.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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