Judge temporarily blocks Vista from releasing day-laborer employer information
By: CRAIG TENBROECK - Staff Writer
VISTA -- A Superior Court judge on Monday temporarily blocked the city of Vista from releasing the names, addresses and telephone numbers of private employers who have registered to hire day laborers.
Judge Michael Orfield said the restraining order would preserve the status quo while the court sorts out a conflict between two fundamental issues: the right to privacy versus the public's right to know.
The next hearing will be on July 26.
The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties, representing four anonymous employers, filed suit on Friday. The ACLU asked the court to ban the city from releasing employer information after the leader of a local anti-illegal immigration group requested the data under the California Public Records Act.
Vista would have been required to release the records by Monday afternoon, barring the court's intervention.
At Monday's hearing, the city declined to take a position on the matter.
"We're just going to take our direction from the court," City Attorney Darold Pieper said afterward.
In arguing the ACLU's case, the group's legal director David Blair-Loy told the judge that private employers could be discouraged from hiring if their personal information was posted on the Internet or used for harassment.
"In this case, we think the right to privacy prevails," Blair-Loy said.
Blair-Loy added, however, that he had no specific insight into what Mike Spencer, the activist who filed the latest request, planned to do with the information.
Spencer, a Vista resident and leader of an anti-illegal immigration group called the Vista Citizens Brigade, said after the hearing that his request was a matter of "due diligence."
"We like to keep our eyes open to the things going on around us," said Spencer, about his reasons for seeking the list.
Members of Spencer's group sometimes protest against the hiring of day laborers at a shopping center in central Vista where men gather waiting for work. Spencer has alleged that many of the mostly Latino workers are in the country illegally.
Vista adopted its controversial hiring law last summer, requiring people who hire temporary workers off the street to register, display permits in their car windows and present workers with written terms of employment.
More than 110 individuals have registered with the city since then, officials have said.
The Vista law states that information submitted by prospective employers will be available as public record. However, under a recent settlement with the ACLU, the city agreed to give the group time to challenge a public request for employer information before releasing it.
Spencer said that Vista betrayed its citizens with the settlement.
"The city, in essence, has negotiated my rights away," he said. "One might look at it as throwing the little guy to the wolves."
Joseph Turner, a representative for the Washington, D.C.-based Federation for American Immigration Reform, accompanied Spencer to the hearing and said his group would intervene in court on Spencer's behalf.
Meanwhile, the executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition said Monday that the city's registration forms appear to be public records, "even though some people, myself included, might not like the constituency that is seeking the records or their purpose in doing so."
Peter Scheer, the leader of the group, said concerns about privacy generally do not trump the people's right to know.
"Certainly there are many other kinds of government regulations at the local, state and federal level that also involve the same kinds of information, and in general, they are all public records," he said.
Prior to its settlement with the ACLU, the city received -- and granted -- five formal public records requests for employer information. They were submitted by several media organizations -- the North County Times, San Diego-Union Tribune and Today's Local News --- as well as Spencer and the ACLU.
Blair-Loy, the ACLU lawyer, said that when his group made the request, "part of what we were interested in was how would the city respond."
He also said repeatedly Monday that he was only seeking to protect the information of private employers, not businesses.
It will be the city's burden to determine which is which, he added.
Vista currently makes no distinction between private individuals and those representing businesses when it registers employers, so the judge's order "has effectively restrained everything," Pieper said.