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De Blasio can’t shield emails with close advisers from public view, appeals court rules

The mayor’s argument is "without merit" and "closes the door on government transparency," the judges wrote.

Mayor Bill de Blasio lost an appeals court

Mayor Bill de Blasio lost an appeals court decision over whether he can shield certain emails with "agents of the city" from public view. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

A midlevel appeals court on Tuesday rejected Mayor Bill de Blasio’s attempt to shield his government emails with close friends who advise him on city business.

Tuesday’s unanimous ruling — by Anil C. Singh of the Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Department, and signed by four fellow justices — said de Blasio’s legal argument “is without merit” and “closes the door on government transparency.”

For years, de Blasio has denied Freedom of Information Law requests for the emails, claiming that the correspondence is akin to confidential advice given by municipal employees or consultants on retainer.

The law shields certain governmental correspondence involving employees and consultants on the logic that exposing internal deliberations could discourage candid deliberations and produce inferior policymaking.

But the appeals court declined to extend those exceptions to de Blasio’s friends — whom he has deemed “agents of the city” and who also represent private clients seeking to influence the city.

The litigation concerns thousands of emails sent between the mayor’s office and the political consulting firm BerlinRosen, headed by longtime de Blasio confidant Jonathan Rosen. His firm was hired by Campaign for One New York, de Blasio’s controversial political nonprofit he shut down amid scrutiny.

De Blasio also has designated four other friends to be agents of the city, all but one of whom had private business before the city.

In 2017, a trial court ordered de Blasio to turn over the records, and de Blasio appealed, resulting in Tuesday’s adverse ruling.

The mayor’s office did not return a message asking whether the administration would appeal.

Tuesday’s ruling noted that de Blasio had initially withheld hundreds of records, 1,500 of which he turned over only after the case was initially filed — in batches, usually on a Friday afternoon and sometimes on a holiday weekend.

“These documents include examples of the mayor and Mr. Rosen discussing issues important to BerlinRosen’s private clients,” Singh wrote. “The documents are the types of communications that the FOIL meant to make available to the public. Respondents’ attempts to withhold these communications run counter to the public’s interest in transparency and the ability to participate on important issues of municipal governance.”

The case is Rauh, et al. v. de Blasio, etc., et al. Grace Rauh is a reporter for NY1 who sought the records.

BerlinRosen spokesman Dan Levitan declined to comment.

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