Star Publishing Co. v. Pima County Attorney's Office

In Star Publishing Co. v. Pima County Attorney's Office, 181 Ariz. 432, 891 P.2d 899 (App. 1994), a newspaper sought computer backup tapes of the Pima County assessor's office, including e-mail communications of its employees, in connection with allegations of impropriety in that office. Id. at 433, 891 P.2d at 900. The county attorney's office, which held the tapes, denied the public records request; but the superior court ordered that office to produce the tapes. Id. In challenging that order on appeal, the county attorney argued, inter alia, "some of the material there recorded might not be a public record, . . . or might be immune from disclosure in order to protect public employee privacy rights." Id. at 434, 891 P.2d at 901. The Court rejected that argument, noting that only speculation had been offered to resist inspection and "no one has examined the actual records in this case to demonstrate why any particular individual record ought not be revealed." Id. The Court also noted "public records are presumed open to the public for inspection unless the public official can demonstrate a factual basis why a particular record ought not be disclosed to further an important public or private interest." Star Publ'g, 181 Ariz. at 434, 891 P.2d at 901. Finally, the court stated, again in dicta: "While we doubt that public employees have any legitimate expectation of privacy in personal documents that they have chosen to lodge in public computer files, we are unable to even assess the nature of any claim they might have, given the paucity of this record." Id.