The First Amendment Coalition and Working Partnerships filed a motion for a new judge to preside over a case involving San Jose’s secretive dealings with Google.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Paul Bernal was scheduled this morning to oversee the lawsuit, which was filed by the two nonprofit plaintiffs last fall. But Bernal’s long personal ties with one of the central figures of the case—Mayor Sam Liccardo—caused the groups to question his ability to remain impartial.
Bernal and his family attended the mayor’s wedding in 2013, and Bernal’s wife, Mary Bernal, endorsed Liccardo during his first mayoral run that same year. The jurist’s niece, Elizabeth Bernal, also worked as a council assistant in Liccardo’s office around 2016.
David Snyder, the executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said that they filed what is called a peremptory motion, which gives them the ability to have a judge automatically reassigned. In California, plaintiffs in civil cases are given one opportunity to file this type of motion. “We just felt that our chances are better with a different judge,” Snyder said. “We expect to be reassigned soon.”
By Monday afternoon the case was assigned to Judge Patricia Lucas, according to court spokesperson Benjamin Rada.
The lawsuit alleges that San Jose officials signed non-disclosure agreements with Google without the legal authority to do so. Nearly 20 officials signed NDAs as a part of negotiations for the tech-giant’s future downtown mega-campus.
But the First Amendment Coalition and Working Partnerships—a South Bay Labor-aligned nonprofit think tank—argue that San Jose’s municipal code only permits certain officials the power to enter into a contract with a third party, “without the prior approval of the city council.”
The plaintiffs argue that none of the officials that signed the NDA met that criteria.
They also claim that San Jose refused to hand over all responsive documents to public records requests and cited questionable exemptions when denying information
Snyder said that he hopes the issue of finding a new judge can be resolved quickly
“It’s already taken too long to get to this point,” he said in an interview this morning. “We’re optimistic that we’ll get a hearing date quickly and the city will release the records that it should have released many months ago.”