Court Sides With SEC in Keeping Ex-Chairman’s Records Private

A federal appeals court has ruled that the Securities and Exchange Commission was right to deny a media group access to former chairman Harvey Pitt’s telephone logs, message slips and appointment calendars.

The U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia determined that those records were personal and not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, the Associated Press reported. New York media company Bloomberg L.P. had requested the documents two years ago as Pitt was being criticized for meeting with people he had once represented in his law practice.

The court said that even though Pitt’s calendar was kept on the SEC computer system, it was not an official record. The court said the SEC allows employees some limited personal use of office equipment, and Pitt’s schedule also included birthdays, social events and doctor’s appointments. The court took the same position on Pitt's telephone logs and message slips.

Not only did the court refuse access to Pitt’s telephone logs and the like, but it also said the SEC was correct when it would not turn over notes taken during a 2002 meeting Pitt had with KPMG LLP chief executive Eugene O'Kelly.

The determination was the same for a November 2001 meeting about conflicts on Wall Street. Bloomberg wanted notes SEC staffers took during the meeting with New York Stock Exchange officials and others, but the court upheld the SEC’s refusal to hand over the records. The SEC cited an exemption for material produced during an agency's deliberations that reflect the author’s personal opinions rather than that of the agency, AP reported.

The meeting was meant to offer a candid criticism of conflicts on Wall Street, the court said. Participants should feel free to speak openly and staffers’ opinions should not be revealed before final decisions are made. Otherwise, the work of regulators would be hampered, the court said.

The court on Wednesday did not reach a decision on Bloomberg’s request for some SEC staff e-mails. A Bloomberg spokeswoman said that it’s too early to talk about an appeal.

“I'm gratified by the decision, which strikes me as correct in all respects,'' Pitt said Saturday.

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