Judge: Grand jury is privy

Emily Aughinbaugh

The El Dorado County grand jury is privy to closed session business of the Board of Supervisors, Superior Court Judge Suzanne Kingsbury decided Monday.

County Counsel Louis Green filed suit against the grand jury last month, claiming closed session information is protected under attorney-client privilege. Green asked the court to invalidate subpoenas the jury issued Green and former Chief Administrative Officer Mike Hanford at the end of last year. The grand jury sought closed session testimony from the two county officials, the nature of which neither side can legally divulge.

In Kingsbury’s ruling she referenced cases in which judges refused to permit disclosure of confidential information to individual citizens or newspapers. The rationale for refusing disclosure in those cases was to protect the government from civil litigation opponents or to keep prospective real estate transactions from others involved in the negotiations.

Since the grand jury is charged with investigating county matters, Kingsbury found the above rationale would not pertain to the El Dorado County case.

“The public policy interest favoring nondisclosure to journalists, the general public or potential adversaries is entirely different from the public policy interest in providing information to the grand jury in performance of its civilly investigatory function,” Kingsbury stated.

Grand Jury Foreman Kenn Womack said he was very excited with Kingsbury’s ruling.

“It’s too bad you can’t see the big grin on my face,” he said. “We’re certainly pleased with the ruling. We have a job to do and the reinforcement the judge gave to the grand jury is certainly pleasing.”

Womack said the grand jury has yet to hear whether Green will appeal Kingsbury’s decision. The grand jury meets tomorrow to discuss the next step, which Womack said will probably be to proceed with the investigation into the closed session dealings.

“We’re going to ask Lou Green to honor the court order and try to schedule a date to testify before the grand jury,” Womack said. “That will give us a clear understanding of what Lou’s intentions are.”

Green was unsure whether the county would appeal the ruling or when the board would decide on the next step.

“We need to confer with the board and go from there,” he said. “We were quite surprised by the ruling. We thought we had quite a strong case.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.