Editorial: Concept of ‘attorney-client privilege’ is gone

The concept of “attorney-client privilege” is gone, City of Prescott.

The Daily Courier has been pushing for the public release of three investigative reports since late last year, culminating with a demand letter from our attorneys last month.

Still, the Prescott City Attorney’s Office and the City Council members continue to ignore the facts and hide behind alleged confidentiality between them and their attorneys. They are quiet lately about the requests for releasing the documents, hoping we’ll go away?

The problem began with Prescott City Manager Katie Gregory’s late-2023 firing of Airport Director Robin Sobotta, and the mayor demanding/asking for the city manager’s resignation. In a Nov. 7, 2023, public meeting Mayor Phil Goode, himself, called for a third-party investigation into whether his actions violated the City Charter.

The city spent upwards of $40,000 of taxpayer money with two Phoenix-area law firms on the investigations, which included one about the mayor, one stemming from a complaint by Councilwoman Cathey Rusing, and a third into a complaint by the now-former airport director.

The first investigation was conducted by Fitzgibbons Law Offices and looked into complaints alleging that Goode had violated the City Charter when he pressured Gregory to resign from her position. The other two were conducted by Coppersmith-Brockelman lawyers.

In January, the three documents were leaked by an anonymous source to local media. And despite City Attorney Joe Young’s efforts to get them back and stop their spread, the documents are out in the community now – in a big way.

Yes, the City of Prescott has released the former city manager’s settlement agreement. Kudos. However, while the Courier and other media returned the investigative documents at the city’s request in January, copies of them continue to be emailed throughout the community. Some sources say they’re also regularly seen being read and left in Prescott-area restaurants, and – as of this past week – they are online at an “easyupload” internet site, the Courier has confirmed.

Prior to them being online, sources – including former council members, members of the effort to recall Goode, and members of the community – estimated that the number of people who have read or have access to the three documents is “well north of 500” residents.

The fact that they are also now on the internet, as of March 2 (who knows how long they’ll be there), for uncontrolled download shows the city has lost its “attorney-client privilege” status.

Arizona Public Records Law applies even more clearly. The investigative reports are public. Regardless, though, we respect the rule of law.

One red herring in this is that the reports have been the topic of discussion in some of the many executive sessions held by the Prescott City Council. It is illegal for anything discussed there to be publicly disseminated. Yet, if city officials would merely read the investigative report about the mayor, they would see that their own hired legal team has given them this advice:

“I have learned of discussions occurring in executive sessions. To preserve the confidentiality of such discussions, this memorandum retains that confidentiality. This memorandum will need to be reviewed in executive session first before being modified for public review by redacting references to the executive session discussions.”

With all of the potential exposure, the documents are not and should not be considered confidential anymore. Redact them — even of private information — and release them.

And sources have told the Courier, as city officials claim to being more transparent, remember that is much more than allowing Call to the Public.

Release the investigative reports.

We ask our readers and residents of the Prescott area to contact the city urging the City Council to make the investigative reports public; send letters to 201 N. Montezuma St., Suite 318, Prescott, AZ 86301; call 928-777-1100; or visit www.prescott-azgov/city-management/leadership to email a comment.

Yes, Prescott voters and city officials’ constituents all have a right to know, and the Courier does not wish to invite being sued; thus, it is unconscionable that the city refuses to finally make the documents officially public. What are they afraid of?

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