McManis Faulkner recently submitted an amicus letter in support of the National Lawyers Guild, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter (NLG), on behalf of amici curiae, the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Pacific Media Workers Guild (The News Guild-CWA Local 39521), encouraging the California Supreme Court to review an opinion by the First District Court of Appeal that threatens equitable access to electronic public records. On December 19, 2018, the California Supreme Court granted review of the case.
In National Lawyers Guild v. City of Hayward, the City of Hayward charged NLG $2,939.58 for copies of redacted police body camera footage of a protest in 2014, in response to NLG’s request under the California Public Records Act (CPRA). The City claimed the charge was for work by city employees to review and redact the video. The trial court ordered the City to refund the money, but the Court of Appeal upheld the charge. The Court of Appeal interpreted Government Code Section 6253.9(b)(2) to allow the City to charge costs over and above the direct cost of duplication when responding to requests for such electronic records.
In the amicus letter, McManis Faulkner partner Christine Peek argued the Court of Appeal’s interpretation of the CPRA threatens to cut off access to electronic public records for independent journalists and others who lack institutional funding, such as freelance writers, bloggers, and student journalists. The decision would also allow public agencies effectively to deny access to records that are not privileged and qualify for release, simply by demanding exorbitant fees.
“Our society increasingly depends on independent news outlets to enforce the public’s constitutional right of access. If this ruling stands, it would discourage government transparency and create a barrier whereby only the wealthy can afford to use the CPRA to hold the government accountable,” said Peek. “This issue is of tremendous importance to the public, and we are pleased that the State Supreme Court has granted review.”
Defending the CPRA and protecting the public’s right to government transparency is not new territory for McManis Faulkner. Just last year, in a matter that paralleled issues in the 2016 elections, McManis Faulkner obtained a unanimous California Supreme Court decision in favor of their client, ruling that government emails and texts sent on private devices are public records, closing a loophole that justices said could have allowed the "most sensitive and potentially damning" communications to be shielded. This landmark decision set a statewide precedent for records disclosure and it applies to all public entities in California from water districts to school districts to cities, counties, and state agencies.