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Public Records Act Training Office of the California Attorney General

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Public Records Act Training Office of the California Attorney General
Public Records Act Training
Office of the
California Attorney General
California Constitution, Article 1,
Section 3, Subdivision B
™ Constitutional amendment added by
Proposition 59
™ Provides generalized right of access to be
implemented by statute
™ Statutes that provide access are to be
liberally construed
California Constitution, Article 1,
Section 3, Subdivision B
™ Statutes that restrict access are to be
narrowly construed
™ Legislature must make findings justifying
the need for new statutory provisions that
restrict access
California Constitution, Article 1,
Section 3, Subdivision B
™ Constitutional provision expressly
preserves:
– constitutional provisions or statutes
restricting access that were in existence at
the time.
California Constitution, Article 1,
Section 3, Subdivision B
™ Constitutional provision expressly
preserves:
– individual rights of privacy.
– the rights of due process and equal
protection of the laws.
Applicable Statutes
™ Public Records Act (PRA), Government
Code section 6250-6276.48
– Provides public access to state and local
government records.
Applicable Statutes
™ Legislative Open Records Act, Government
Code section 9070-9080
– Provides public access to records of the
Legislature.
Applicable Statutes
Judicial records
– Case law provides access to judicial
records.
Applicable Statutes
™ Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5
U.S.C. Section 552
– Provides public access to records of the
federal government.
Applicable Statutes
™ If records are mistakenly sought under
FOIA, California agency should:
– explain that FOIA covers federal
government records.
– explain that PRA covers California
government records.
– provide records in accordance with PRA.
Applicable Statutes
™ Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5
U.S.C. Section 552
– Provides public access to records of the
federal government.
Applicable Statutes
™ Judicial records
– Case law provides access to judicial
records.
Applicable Statutes
™ Information Practices Act (IPA) vs. Public
Records Act (PRA)
– PRA
„ All government records are disclosable
unless specifically made exempt
„ Applies to state and local government
records
Applicable Statutes
™ Information Practices Act (IPA) vs. Public
Records Act (PRA)
– How to reconcile these conflicting laws?
„ IPA
contains exemption for all records
disclosed under PRA.
„ Therefore, IPA does not shield records
from disclosure that are otherwise
disclosable under the PRA.
Applicable Statutes
™ Information Practices Act (IPA) vs. Public
Records Act (PRA)
– Records that are exempt from disclosure
to public under the PRA may be
accessible to the subject of the records
under the IPA.
Public Records Act: Purposes
Access to information about the conduct of
the public’s business is a fundamental and
necessary right of every person in the state
™ In providing access, PRA remains mindful
of individual privacy rights
Public Records Act: Purposes
™ Access permits public to monitor
governmental activities
™ Agency cannot deny access to disclosable
records based on requester’s intended usage
Public Records Act: Definitions
™ Public record defined:
– Any writing that is owned, used or
retained by a government agency in the
conduct of its official business.
Public Records Act: Definitions
™ Writing defined:
– Any means of recording information
including paper, audio tape, video tape,
compact disc, DVD, computer diskette,
computer hard drive, etc.
Public Records Act: Definitions
™ E-mail is expressly covered.
Issues:
„ When is email no longer a record?
„ When you place it in the trash?
„ When it leaves your hard drive?
„ When it is erased from the agency’s
back-up tape?
Public Records Act: Definitions
™ During discovery in litigation, agency may be
required to recover email from back-up tapes
™ At present, there are no cases or opinions
regarding retrieval of email trash under the
PRA. PRA and litigation serve very different
purposes. Based on the purposes of the PRA
as discussed in Rogers v. Superior Court
(1993) 19 Cal.App.4th 469, it seems unlikely
that agencies would be asked to retrieve
records from back-up tapes under the PRA.
Making A Request
™ If agency were required to extract
information from back-up tapes under PRA,
full cost recovery likely (see subsequent
discussion of costs.)
Making A Request
™ Request may be made orally or in writing
™ Recommend that agency confirm oral
requests in writing
™ Written requests facilitate agency
compliance by reducing confusion about the
records requested and permitting agency to
track the request
Making A Request
™ Request need not identify an exact record
™ Request may identify records by their
general content
Making A Request
™ Request must still be sufficiently precise to
permit the agency to locate the records
™ Request should not be unduly burdensome
Making A Request
™ Request should be specific and focused
(Rogers v. Superior Court (1993) 19
Cal.App.4th 469.)
™ Specific and focused requests facilitate
prompt disclosure by government
Making A Request
™ Open ended requests:
– Are burdensome
– Frustrate agency
– Are expensive for requester
– May lead to non-compliance
Making A Request
™ When a request is not specific and focused,
the agency has a duty to assist the public in
focusing the request
– Assist in identifying requested
information
– Describe physical location of the record
Making A Request
™ When a request is not specific and focused,
the agency has a duty to assist the public in
focusing the request
– Describe technology in which the record
is housed
– Help public to overcome any practical
barriers to access
Agency Duty To Search
™ Agency must make reasonable efforts to
locate requested records. At a minimum,
such efforts should include:
– consulting record indexes
– consulting knowledgeable people
– looking in logical places
Agency Duty To Search
™ Special rule for electronic records
™ Record must be provided in electronic
format used by the agency if requested
™ Software developed by the government is
not disclosable
™ Commercial software is not disclosable
™ Data housed in protected software may still
be disclosable
Inspection Of Records
™ General Rule
– Agency records may be inspected at any
time during regular office hours
Inspection Of Records
™ In reality, the agency may need to:
– locate the requested records
– gather multiple records for inspection
– redact exempt information prior to
inspection
™ Appointment to inspect records may be
necessary under these circumstances
Requesting Copies Of Records
™ Agency should provide records promptly
™ Agency has up to 10 days to:
– determine if it will comply with the
request, and
– notify the requester of its determination.
Requesting Copies Of Records
™ Agency may extend period to make this
determination for up to 14 days if there is a
need to:
– communicate with field offices
– examine voluminous records
Requesting Copies Of Records
™ Agency may extend period to make this
determination for up to 14 days if there is a
need to:
– communicate with others who have an
interest in the records.
– construct computer reports.
Requesting Copies Of Records
™ Once the determination to comply with the
request has been made, the agency has a
reasonable period of time to provide the
records
™ Remember that records must be provided
promptly
Requesting Copies Of Records
™ If the agency cannot provide the records
during the time for making a determination,
it must provide a good faith estimate of
when the copies will be available
Fees For Duplication Of Records
™ Agency may charge the direct cost of
duplication
– Direct cost includes:
„ pro-rata cost of duplication equipment
„ pro-rata cost of equipment operator
(salary and benefits)
™ DOJ charges $.10/ per page
Fees For Duplication Of Records
™ Agency may charge the direct cost of
duplication
– Direct costs do not include:
„ research
„ retrieval
„ redaction
Fees For Duplication Of Records
Issue: What, if any, are the “direct costs
of duplication” associated with faxing or
e-mailing a record to a requester?
Fees For Duplication Of Records
™ Special rules for electronic records
– Agency may recover full costs where
agency is required to:
„ extract or compile data
„ undertake programming to produce
data
Fees For Duplication Of Records
™ Special rules for electronic records
– What does it mean to extract or compile
data for purposes of this section?
„ Full cost recovery probably not
available for merely extracting or
compiling information loaded in
extractable fields in a data base such as
an Excel spreadsheet.
Fees For Duplication Of Records
™ Special rules for electronic records
– Some requesters contend that they can
require agencies to create new records
through extraction, compilation or
programming even if the agency would
otherwise have no need to create the
record. We doubt that this is the correct
interpretation of the special cost
provision for electronic records.
Withholding Records
™ Exemptions are generally discretionary, not
mandatory
™ Generally, the agency may redact exempt
information; remainder of record must be
disclosed
™ Where exemptions render the entire record
worthless, the entire record may be withheld
Withholding Records
™ Agencies should consider disclosure issues
in designing records
™ Exempt and disclosable information
segregated from one another so that a clerk
can duplicate disclosable information
without need for further review by an
attorney or other agency personnel
Withholding Records
™ Agencies need not provide privilege or
exemption log of exempt records
™ Agencies should provide a sufficient
explanation of the reasons for withholding
records so that the public can decide
whether to challenge the agency’s
withholding
Withholding Records
™ If exempt information is disclosed, the
exemption is waived
™ The following disclosures are not waivers:
– Disclosures pursuant to the Information
Practices Act
– Disclosures made pursuant to discovery
requests
Withholding Records
™ The following disclosures are not waivers:
– Disclosures made pursuant to court order
– Disclosures to another government
agency when there is a confidentiality
agreement and the head of the agency
designates those employees who are
permitted to examine the records
Withholding Records
™ Source of Exemptions
– Expressly provided in Gov. Code, § 6254
– Imported into section 6254, subd. (k)
from other provisions of state or federal
law
– Public interest balancing test under
section 6255
Litigation and Legal Advice
Exemptions
™ Pending litigation (Gov. Code, § 6254 (b))
– Exempts records prepared for use in
litigation
– Exemption lasts only for duration of
litigation
Litigation and Legal Advice
Exemptions
™ Pending litigation (Gov. Code, § 6254 (b))
– Settlement itself is disclosable
– Depositions are disclosable
Litigation and Legal Advice
Exemptions
™ Pending litigation (Gov. Code, § 6254 (b))
– Exempts records prepared for use in
litigation
– Exemption lasts only for duration of
litigation
Litigation and Legal Advice
Exemptions
™ Attorney-client privilege ( Evid. Code, §
954 imported into PRA via Gov. Code, §
6254 ( k))
– Although public disclosure generally
waives the privilege, disclosure to
opposing party for purpose of advancing
negotiations does not constitute waiver
(STI Outdoor v. Superior Court (2001) 91
Cal.App.4th 334, 341.)
Litigation and Legal Advice
Exemptions
™ Attorney work product (Code Civ. Proc., §
2018.30 imported into PRA via Gov. Code,
§ 6254 (k))
– Protects impressions and conclusions of
attorney
– Exemption is permanent
– Applies to legal advice in litigation and
nonlitigation contexts
Litigation and Legal Advice
Exemptions
™ Evid. Code, § 1040 imported into PRA via
Gov. Code, § 6254 (k)
– Protects confidential information when in
public interest to do so
– Often duplicative of public interest
balancing test under Gov. Code, § 6255
Litigation and Legal Advice
Exemptions
™ Evid. Code, § 1040 imported into PRA via
Gov. Code, § 6254 (k)
– PRA exemptions in the context of
discovery
– Litigants may make requests before or
during litigation
Litigation and Legal Advice
Exemptions
™ Evid. Code, § 1040 imported into PRA via
Gov. Code, § 6254 (k)
– If agency believes PRA request violates
discovery order, agency should use
collateral estoppel to defeat the request
– Agencies may not use PRA exemptions
to defeat discovery requests; must use
Evid. Code, § 1040
Exemption For Personnel Records–
Gov. Code, § 6254, Subd. C
™ Exemption applies to personnel, medical or
similar records whose disclosure would
constitute an unwarranted invasion of
personal privacy
™ Usually involves personal information
required by employer
Exemption For Personnel Records–
Gov. Code, § 6254, Subd. C
™ Exemption generally does not cover
information that would be exchanged at a
cocktail party, such as educational
background, employment background and
training
™ Personnel records are defined by content,
not by location
Exemption For Personnel Records–
Gov. Code, § 6254, Subd. C
™ Performance evaluations are exempt from
disclosure
™ Case law is unsettled regarding when
disclosure of personnel actions are required
to be disclosed:
Exemption For Personnel Records–
Gov. Code, § 6254, Subd. C
– Court required disclosure if there were
substantial evidence of wrongdoing
irrespective of outcome; nondisclosable
only if charges found to be groundless
(AFSCME v. Regents of University of
California (1978) 80 Cal.App.3d 913;
and Bakersfield City School District v.
Superior Court (2004) 118 Cal.App.4th
1041.)
Exemption For Personnel Records–
Gov. Code, § 6254, Subd. C
– Where agency publicized personnel
action to deter similar conduct, court
found that personnel action was
nondisclosable unless there were a
compelling governmental justification
(Payton v. City of Santa Clara (1982) 132
Cal.App.3d 152.)
Exemption For Personnel Records–
Gov. Code, § 6254, Subd. C
– When an agency files a personnel action
with the State Personnel Board, the filing
is a disclosable public record unless it
involves a peace officer (Copley Press,
Inc. v. Superior Court of San Diego
County (2006) 39 Cal.4th 1272, held that
the county civil service commission’s
files of peace officer disciplinary actions
are confidential records of the
“employing agency” within the meaning
of Pen. Code, §§ 832.7 and 832.8.)
Exemption For Investigatory
Records – Gov. Code, § 6254,
Subd. F
™ Protects complaints to, and investigatory,
intelligence and security records of, the
Attorney General
™ Protects investigatory records used for law
enforcement, licensing or correctional
purposes
– Law enforcement purposes refers to
traditional criminal law enforcement
Exemption For Personnel Records–
Gov. Code, § 6254, Subd. C
– When an agency files a personnel action
with the State Personnel Board, the filing
is a disclosable public record unless it
involves a peace officer (Copley Press,
Inc. v. Superior Court of San Diego
County (2006) 39 Cal.4th 1272, held that
the county civil service commission’s
files of peace officer disciplinary actions
are confidential records of the
“employing agency” within the meaning
of Pen. Code, §§ 832.7 and 832.8.)
Exemption For Investigatory
Records – Gov. Code, § 6254,
Subd. F
™ Agencies with non-licensing administrative
authority must use public interest balancing
test to protect investigative records; they
cannot invoke the investigatory exemption
of section 6254(f)
™ Public interest in nondisclosure is strongest
during pendency of investigation
Public Interest Balancing Test –
Gov. Code, § 6255
™ Protects records where the public interest in
nondisclosure clearly outweighs the public
interest in disclosure
™ Public interest in nondisclosure does not
refer to the administrative convenience of a
public agency, but to the broader interests
of the public in general
Public Interest Balancing Test –
Gov. Code, § 6255
™ San Jose v. Superior Court (1999) 74
Cal.App.4th 1008, outlines the three-step
test for the public interest balancing test:
– The public interest in disclosure
– The public interest in nondisclosure
– Less intrusive alternatives to satisfy the
public interest in disclosure
Public Interest Balancing Test –
Gov. Code, § 6255
™ In San Jose, the press requested copies of
citizen complaints about airport noise.
– Public interest in disclosure:
„ Monitor the governmental response to
these complaints
Public Interest Balancing Test –
Gov. Code, § 6255
– Public interest in nondisclosure:
„ Disclosure intrudes upon complainant
privacy
„ Chilling effect on citizen complaints
Public Interest Balancing Test –
Gov. Code, § 6255
– Less burdensome alternatives:
„ Press can attend city council meetings
in which noise complaints were
discussed
„ Press can contact interest groups
involved in both sides of the airport
noise debate
„ Press can visit affected neighborhoods
Public Interest Balancing Test –
Gov. Code, § 6255
™ Court concluded that city was justified in
withholding names of complainants.
™ Remember– the agency bears the burden of
demonstrating that the public interest is best
served by maintaining the confidentiality of
the records.
Public Interest Balancing Test –
Gov. Code, § 6255
™ Any state agency (other than constitutional
officers) that wishes to assert the public
interest balancing test must first receive
approval from the Governor’s Legal Affairs
Secretary
Deliberations, Correspondence,
And Drafts
™ Deliberative process privilege
– Protects records involved in the decisionmaking process
– Implemented through public interest
balancing test in Gov. Code, § 6255
– Permits candid debate and airing of
potential solutions
Deliberations, Correspondence,
And Drafts
™ Deliberative process privilege
– Focuses on recommendatory speech not
facts
– Sometimes facts are inextricably
intertwined with recommendatory speech
and thus are exempt as well
Deliberations, Correspondence,
And Drafts
™ Deliberative process privilege
– Advisors may be from inside or outside
the government
– Deliberative process privilege may be
overcome by a narrow request with high
public interest
Deliberations, Correspondence,
And Drafts
™ Correspondence Exemptions
– Only the Governor and the Legislature
have correspondence exemptions
– Correspondence means letters from
persons outside the government
Deliberations, Correspondence,
And Drafts
™ Correspondence Exemptions
– Governor’s action requests and budget
change proposals would be protected by
the deliberative process privilege not the
correspondence exemption
– Some agencies use the balancing test to
protect the names and addresses of
persons who write the agency
Deliberations, Correspondence,
And Drafts
™ Drafts, notes and memoranda (Gov. Code, §
6254 (a))
– Protects preliminary drafts, notes and
memoranda that are not retained in the
ordinary course of business where the
public interest in nondisclosure
outweighs the public interest in
disclosure
Deliberations, Correspondence,
And Drafts
™ Drafts, notes and memoranda (Gov. Code, §
6254 (a))
– Difficult test to understand and apply
(Citizens for a Better Environment v.
California Department of Food and
Agriculture (1985) 171 Cal.App.3d 704.)
™ Deliberative process privilege exemption is
easier to understand and apply
Copyright and Trade Secrets
™ Copyright
– Federal agencies excluded from federal
copyright protection, but
– States are not expressly excluded
– Copyright protection presumably
imported into PRA via Gov. Code, §
6254 (k)
Copyright and Trade Secrets
™ Copyright
– Gov. Code, § 6254.9 (software developed
by government) implicitly endorses
copyright protection for California
government records
Copyright and Trade Secrets
™ Copyright
– County of Suffolk v. First American Real
Estate Solutions (2001) 261 F.3d 179,
required disclosure of copyrighted
government mapping data but prohibited
the requester from distributing the
information
Copyright and Trade Secrets
™ Copyright
– This approach balanced disclosure under
New York Public Records Act and
copyright protection
Copyright and Trade Secrets
™ Trade Secrets
– Trade secrets not expressly exempt
– However, the confidentiality of trade
secrets is protected by Evid. Code, §
1060, and is imported into the PRA via
Gov. Code, § 6254(k)
Copyright and Trade Secrets
™ Trade Secrets
– Section 3426.1 of the Civil Code states
that “trade secret,” for purposes of the
PRA, is defined by the definition that was
in use in 1984. One must look to case
law and the Restatement of Torts to
determine the definition.
Copyright and Trade Secrets
™ Trade Secrets
– Agency must determine whether records
submitted to it are protected by trade
secret
– If not protected, agency must disclose
– Agency may wish to withhold for limited
period in order for holder of right to seek
protection in court
Enforcement
™ Mandate, injunctive relief, declaratory relief
™ If plaintiff prevails, plaintiff receives court
costs and attorney’s fees
™ Plaintiff prevails if suit motivates disclosure
Enforcement
™ Once suit is filed, any voluntary disclosure
by agency means plaintiff has prevailed
™ Plaintiff need not prevail on all issues; one
issue is probably sufficient
™ Agency receives fees only if suit is
adjudged totally frivolous
Where To Get More Information
™ Summary of the California Public Records
Act 2004
http://ag.ca.gov/publications/summary_publ
ic_records_act.pdf
™ Guidelines For Access to Department of
Justice Public Records
http://ag.ca.gov/consumers/general/pra.php
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