The California Public Records Act (CPRA) serves the vital function of allowing citizens to obtain government records about what their government (local, regional and state) is doing. The Act (Government Code section 6250 and the California Constitution) allows citizens to request documents from the public agency at little or no cost to the requester. While there are exemptions such as for personnel records, ongoing police investigations, attorney client communications, etc., the law and the Courts ruling on the Act have been very clear that the policy favors disclosure and exemptions to disclosure are to be viewed narrowly.
The Act also provides short timelines for agency to respond to a CPRA request and limits the amount the agency can charge to its “direct” costs of photocopying. The Act also provides that the agency must give the requestor any “documents” that are in electronic format in the format it is stored in. In addition, if a citizen must file a lawsuit to enforce their rights to documents, the Act provides that if the Court finds in favor or the citizen and orders disclosure of documents, the citizen is awarded his or her attorneys fees and court costs (filing fees, etc.). Recently the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of disclosure of e-mails and texts of public officials who use their private e-mail accounts and cell phones to conduct official business. (City of San Jose v. Superior Court, 2017, 2 Cal. 5th 608) and the Appeals Court recently found that when citizens must file lawsuits to enforce their rights to documents, “discovery” rules for civil cases that allow the citizen to make the agency respond to questions such as what they did or did not do to satisfy the CPRA request, are allowed. (City of Los Angeles v. Superior Court, 2017, 9 Cal. App. 5th 272).