A voting hardware company that rose to prominence just after last year’s presidential election is seeking to prevent Santa Clara County from releasing the company’s financial records, arguing they contain trade secrets that make them exempt from the laws on public records.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Helen Williams on Thursday said she wanted to review the documents in question first before making a decision.
Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems, which provides machines that count votes and also allow individuals to vote, became a household name in the fall of 2020 after a wave of conspiracy accusations leveled against the company by the former President Donald Trump and his supporters, who claimed the company rigged the 2020 presidential election against him.
In 2019, Santa Clara County awarded Dominion an eight-year contract to use its technology for the county’s registrar of electors. As part of the contracting process, Dominion provided 47 pages of audited financial statements from 2015 to 2017 to the county which were marked with the words “confidential” and “owner” on each page.
In August, Santa Clara County received six public records requests asking for Dominion’s financial statements. As part of an agreement between the county and Dominion, the county notified the company of the document request and its intention to respond to it. After Dominion raised concerns over the release of the documents, the county ordered them to present their case in court rather than the county making the decision.
In their lawsuit to prevent the documents from being released, Dominion lawyers argue that society’s interest in preventing their release “outweighs” the public’s interest in receiving them. They also say that “across the country” people “fed” by “false allegations” that the company rigged the 2020 election have filed for public registration seeking information aimed at harming the 2020 election. Dominion.
Additionally, Dominion attorneys argue that it is in Santa Clara County’s best interests not to disclose financial records. If the documents were to be released, they argue, future vendors might be “reluctant” to work with the county.
According to the lawsuit, one of the requests was made by a “sovereign citizen” of so-called “New California,” a movement launched in 2018 that seeks to secede from the state.
Dominion declined a request for comment, and the company’s attorney and law firm did not respond to a request for comment.
County attorney James Williams said the county takes a “relatively neutral” stance in these cases.
“They have to go get a court order. They are the ones who have the factual knowledge if they have a trade secret, ”Williams said of companies seeking to block the release of certain documents. “We want to make sure the supplier isn’t overdoing it. We would oppose it. Between them and the court, we are not in a position to know (what a trade secret is) given their particular problem in the industry.
Williams also said that a person wishing to intervene in the case, Sunnyvale board candidate Charlton M. Thornton, did not appear.
David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, a San Rafael-based organization that advocates for government transparency, said cases like the one involving the Dominion and the county have become more frequent over the past five years. In 2012, a state appeals court ruled that a third party can challenge a claim, known as a reverse trial in the California Public Record Act.
This type of lawsuit was tested in 2017 when former Milpitas city manager Tom Williams, who had been accused of alleged misconduct, attempted to block the publication of records related to his tenure. A judge then ordered the documents released after Snyder’s organization challenged Williams’ efforts to block the documents.
“What reverse action does (is) reverses the burdens,” said Snyder, who has led the Coalition since 2017. “The person who doesn’t want the records leaked gets the first argument. And the most argument. aggressive Public interest in disclosure can be overlooked.
As to Dominion’s argument that their financial documents are trade secrets, Snyder said that just because a company puts the words “confidential” or “owner” on documents does not legally dictate what an entity does. government can do with them.
But the answer is not entirely clear, he says.
“Trade secrecy is defined quite narrowly in the law,” said Snyder, referring to the formula for Coca Cola as an example.
“If this were published, Coca Cola would be at a disadvantage compared to the competition. Are the audited financial accounts secret? I really do not know. But I don’t think that’s an obvious yes.