How Kevin Johnson’s lawsuit against SN&R set in motion events that led to his political destruction

Jeff vonKaenel

On April 22, attorneys representing Kevin Johnson, the city of Sacramento and SN&R will be back in court for one more showdown about the mayor’s secret emails.

The good news so far is that, because this paper stood up to the mayor when he sued us last year, hundreds of contested emails have been released. These documents reveal many things—read Nick Miller’s news story in this week’s issue for more on this (page 6)—but there remain additional emails that have not been released. We do not know what is in these emails. But we do know that the mayor’s argument that they should not be released is bogus.

Much has happened since March 2015, when our reporter Cosmo Garvin filed a routine Public Records Act request asking to see emails relating to the mayor’s attempted takeover of the National Conference of Black Mayors. Garvin suspected that city funds and city staff were being diverted to work on NCBM instead of more pressing city business.

In a highly unusual legal move, Johnson decided to sue us, and the city, to prevent the release of emails that the city attorney had determined to be public record. The mayor cited attorney-client privilege.

Very quickly, the fact that the mayor was suing a newspaper and his own city became a big story. Local television and radio were all over it. National outlets such as USA Today and the Los Angeles Times all covered it.

But by far the most significant development was that Deadspin, the national sports website owned by Gawker, got into the act. With solid reporting by Dave McKenna, Deadspin uncovered other seedier aspects of the mayor’s story.

In September 2015, Deadspin interviewed Mandi Koba, who was 15 years old in 1996 when Johnson allegedly molested her. She no longer wanted to remain silent. And, in October 2015, Deadspin released the 1996 police video of an officer interviewing Koba. And, finally, in March, HBO produced a show documenting additional allegations against K.J. The rest is history—and Johnson’s political career was history, too. He will not run for re-election. He rarely even shows up for city council meetings. His Teflon suit was stripped away.

And so, on April 22, SN&R will be back in court versus the lame-duck mayor. Johnson has successfully delayed this case, which should never have been a case, resulting in a legal bill for SN&R that will probably be in the $75,000 range.

Ironically, the mayor threw the first stone by suing us, and set in motion events that led to his political destruction.

It is time for Johnson to stop his legal maneuvering and release the final emails. After the June primary, Johnson should resign as mayor. Sacramento needs to move on. And Johnson needs to look in a mirror and start changing that reflection.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.