2017-04-21 / Front Page
Judge grants release of emails, voicemails
Public records case likely headed to appellate court
A judge ruled Wednesday that the Camarillo Health Care District is free to give the Camarillo Acorn the voicemails and emails—with some exceptions— traded between Jane Rozanski, its ex-CEO, and former attorney Ralph Ferguson.
The Acorn filed a public records request to hear the voicemails in November after the health agency filed a lawsuit against Rozanski weeks earlier. The Acorn later broadened its request to include the emails sent between the two.
The district says the former CEO conspired with the Sacramento based attorney for 3½ years in a scheme to make the district pay “false and inflated legal bills,” which Rozanski signed off on as head of the district.
The health agency alleges the pair was involved in a longtime romantic relationship when the CEO hired the attorney to represent CHCD and that they collaborated in a cover-up to hide the high fees when its board questioned the legal bills.
The district seeks to recover $425,000 from Rozanski, who left the voicemails and emails on a district-owned cellphone and computer she turned in after her retirement in 2015.
Just before the health agency was set to hand over the correspondence as required by the California Public Records Act, Rozanski’s attorney, Andrew Gilford, sued the health agency in December to keep the documents and recordings from being released to the Acorn. The Ventura County Star had also asked for the correspondence.
Gilford claimed the communications were private and protected by client-attorney privilege.
Ventura County Superior Court Judge Rocky Baio said he had to weigh Rozanski’s privacy rights against the public’s right to know about the alleged wrongdoing by the former public official.
The judge determined, however, that even though the communication in the voicemails and emails contained private information, those conversations shed light on their relationship, which, in turn, gives the public an understanding as to what may have motivated the two to commit the alleged overbilling and subsequent cover-up.
“Here, this court believes that many seemingly private communications between Rozanski and Ferguson must be read in the context of other contemporaneous and clearly public communication to understand the nature of and content of the communication as a whole. . . .” Baio wrote in his ruling. “This is the public’s business to know how public money is spent, and within that context, the communications between Rozanksi and Ferguson shed light on the appropriateness of the expenditures, and if wrongful, how to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future.”
The judge said some of the correspondence—such as conversations between Rozanski and her family members—had no bearing on her job and should be considered private.
He said because Rozanski knew the rules about using a district owned phone and computer she should have known that the content left on those devices was the property of the health agency.
“The court finds that Rozanski could not have had an expectation of privacy in the materials because of the waivers she signed at the time the cellphone and computer at issue were issued to her. And, to the extent that she may have had an expectation of privacy, the right to privacy is outweighed by the public right to access information related to a significant public issue,” Baio wrote in his ruling.
“We are pleased with today’s ruling,” said Katie Townsend, the Acorn’s attorney. “The voicemails and emails that will be released by the district in response to the court’s order will shed light on Ms. Rozanski’s conduct as a public official, including the serious allegations of fraud and misconduct that have been made against her by the district. The public has a particularly strong interest in access to these records, and we are glad that the court has ordered that they be released.”
Michael Velthoen, the attorney for CHCD, was also pleased by the ruling.
“Judge Baio worked hard to get to the right result under the law,” he said. “All of the parties were provided every opportunity to make their arguments.”
At the hearing, Baio refused to delay the ruling further to accommodate Rozanski’s criminal attorney, Barry Groveman, who said the ex-CEO should be given the opportunity to explain why the content is private. That would only happen, he said, after the Ventura County district attorney’s office made a decision of whether to pursue criminal charges, as her testimony could be incriminating.
Groveman said during the hearing that an investigator with the DA’s office was in Sacramento, Ferguson’s hometown, conducting interviews.
Baio said he expects Rozanski’s attorneys to appeal the ruling. Both sides have until May 2 to do so. The records will not be released before the appeal deadline.
“We are carefully reviewing her options, Groveman said. “At the appropriate time, Ms. Rozanski will have plenty to say about the district’s tactics and will vigorously defend the attack on her decades of public service and her well-earned reputation.”
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit which provides free legal services to journalists throughout the U.S., represents the Camarillo Acorn in this case.