City asks court to quash harassing subpoenas

In two lawsuits filed against the City Council and the City of Sacramento by the Petrovich Development Company (Petrovich), at least 30 subpoenas seeking depositions and business records concerning communications about the requested fuel center permit (denied by the City in November 2015) have been served on City officials, City staff and several private citizens, including many SCNA board members.

In the first lawsuit — the writ suit — SCNA, Eric Johnson and Andrea Rosen were personally sued in addition to the City of Sacramento. The writ suit asks the court to reverse the City’s decision last November 2015 to deny the conditional use permit requested by Petrovich to operate a mega-fuel station in Curtis Park Village.

In the second lawsuit — the damages suit — Petrovich sued the City of Sacramento asking for millions of dollars in damages stemming from the same action — its denial of a conditional use permit for the mega fuel station, a permitted discretionary decision by the City Council.

Last May, Petrovich started issuing wildly over-broad subpoenas for depositions and business records to non-parties to the suit, including not only City staff, but also to private citizens, many of whom live in Curtis Park.

Two more rounds of subpoenas have been issued since then, with the most recent on Jan. 25, 2017 to 30 individuals including eight private citizens who live in Curtis Park. According to the motion filed Feb. 16, 2017, the City of Sacramento asks the Court to quash the subpoenas and to issue a protective order to protect them from “unwarranted annoyance, embarrassment, or oppression, or undue burden or expense.”

The City charges Petrovich with issuing the subpoenas directed at personal communications of private citizens communicating with the City… for the purposes of harassing and chilling First Amendment Rights. The City’s lawyers called the subpoenas egregious, harassing and intended to target protected speech. The City argues that the subpoenas are unconstitutional since they aim to harass and chill non-party private individuals’ First Amendment rights to petition their government, free speech and freedom of association.

The subpoenas are so broad they ask for fuel-center related communications between private citizens for a seven-year period (2010 forward) and are not limited to private citizen communications with their elected officials or City staff. Recipients were outraged at Petrovich’s demand that they review and turn over seven years of communications between them and anyone else, including private communications not sent to the City, about the proposed fuel center. Many expressed anger at the perceived harassment.

In his lawsuits, Petrovich alleges that he did not get a fair hearing from the City and that the City relied on information that was uninformed and not permitted as part of the basis for rejecting his request for a fuel center permit. In the writ suit, Judge Mike Kenny denied to enforce compliance with the 31 subpoenas issued by Petrovich and later, permitted limited discovery for former Mayor Johnson, City Council members, a few of their staff, the City Clerk and the City Manager. In the damages lawsuit, the question of quashing these subpoenas will be addressed for the first time.

The public hearing on this motion is scheduled for 2 p.m. March 22 in Department 53. SCNA will update neighbors about the public hearing in the event of changes.

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