United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect
Public Information Rights
|California Government Code §6253. (a) Public records
are open to inspection at all times during the office hours of the state
or local agency and every person has a right to inspect any public record,
except as hereafter provided. Every agency may adopt regulations stating
the procedures to be followed when making its records available in accordance
with this section.
The following state and local bodies shall establish written guidelines
for accessibility of records. A copy of these guidelines shall be posted
in a conspicuous public place at the offices of these bodies, and a copy
of the guidelines shall be available upon request free of charge to any
person requesting that body's records:
Department of Motor Vehicles
(b) Guidelines and regulations adopted pursuant to this section shall
be consistent with all other sections of this chapter and shall reflect
the intention of the Legislature to make the records accessible to the
public. The guidelines and regulations adopted pursuant to this section
shall not operate to limit the hours public records are open for inspection
as prescribed in subdivision (a).
(Name of California agency official)
(California agency) (Agency address)
This letter is to request access to records in the possession of the (name of the state agency) for purpose of inspection and copying, pursuant to the California Public Records Act, Government Code Section 6250 et seq. The records that I am asking to inspect and copy are: (Describe the documents you are seeking) I believe there exist no provisions of law exempting the records from disclosure. Pursuant to Government Code Section 6257, I ask that you make the records ``promptly available'' to me for inspection.
If you believe a portion of the information I have requested is exempt from disclosure by express provisions of the law, Government Code Section 6257 additionally requires segregation and deletion of that material in order that the remainder of the information may be released. If you believe that an express provision of law exists to exempt from disclosure all or a portion of the material I have requested, Government Code Section 6256 also requires you notify me of the reasons for the determination not later than 10 days from your receipt of this request.
Finally, if you plan to charge me for any expense incurred in complying
with this request, please notify me in advance. Thank you for your timely
attention to my request. Sincerely,
ON-LINE VERSION OF A POCKET GUIDE TO THE CALIFORNIA PUBLIC RECORDS ACT California Gov't. Code §§ 6250-6268) A SERVICE OF: SPJ-NORTHERN CALIFORNIA CHAPTER THE FIRST AMENDMENT PROJECT FUNDING PROVIDED BY THE FREEDOM FORUM FOR MORE INFORMATION OR HELP: First Amendment Project: 510/208-7744 SPJ-Northern California Chapter: 415/703-7902 Calif. First Amendment Coalition: 916/447-2322 _________________________________________________________________
HOW TO USE THIS GUIDE This on-line version of the pocket guide is intended to be a quick reference for journalists and citizens on the Public Records Act as of April 1, 1994. It does not substitute for research or consultation with a lawyer on detailed questions. It is intended to address the most common access problems but can't cover everything. The guide contains five sections: Basics: what agencies, what records Your rights under the Public Records Act Common types of records that are not public What To Do...tips in seeking public records How to enforce your rights _________________________________________________________________
THE BASICS: Agencies Covered All State and local agencies are covered by the PRA except courts and the Legislature (§6252(a),(b)). This includes any "board, commission or agency" created by the agency (including advisory boards), and any private, non-profit entity delegated legal authority to carry out public functions if supported solely by public funds (§6252(b)). Records Covered All records of public agencies are open for inspection and copying during office hours (§§6253(a), 6256). "Records" includes every means of recording or communication or representation: any writing, picture, sound or symbol, whether paper, film, magnetic media or other (§6252(e)). Employees' private papers incidentally at the office are not records unless they "relat[e] to the conduct of the public's business [and are] prepared, owned, used or retained by the agency" (§6252(d)). Computer data are included in the definition of "records" (§6252(e)). "Nothing in this section is intended to affect the public record status of information merely because it is stored in a computer. Public records stored in a computer shall be disclosed..." (§6254.9(d)). BUT: computer software developed by an agency is not a public record (§6254.9(a)), and the form in which data are provided is left to agency discretion (§6256). Legislative records are now available to all in electronic form (Govt. Code § 10248). The PRA covers only records that already exist. A PRA request can not require an agency to create a document, list or compilation.
YOUR RIGHTS UNDER THE PRA: Access: A written request is not required. You have a right to immediate access to inspect records during business hours (§6253(a)). But a written request helps if you anticipate trouble. Copies: You have a right to an exact copy upon request (§§6256, 6257). But a copy request triggers a 10-day waiting period for the agency to decide whether copies will be provided, although you must be notified "immediately" of a decision and its basis (§6256). Ask for both: A written request should ask for both access under §6253(a) and copies under §§6256, 6257. After inspection you can reduce the copy request. Cost: For copies an agency may charge only "direct costs of duplication" (§6257), usually 6-25 cents per page. An agency may not include charges or fees to search, review, redact or copy records (North County Parents, etc. v. Dept. of Education, 93 D.A.R. 3224 (4th DCA, 3/10/94). You can limit your initially authorized copy cost (e.g., $50). Access under §6253(a) is free. Timing: Access (§6253(a)) is allowed during business hours. Though the agency need not drop everything to respond, a decision on whether your request will be honored should be immediate. Delay is prohibited: "nothing in this chapter shall be construed to permit an agency to delay access." (§6256.2.) Extensions: The 10-day period for a decision on copies may be extended once by the agency head. It must state the reason for the delay and a date for the decision (§6256.1). Permitted reasons: gathering records from off-site locales; voluminous requests; need to consult with other agencies (§6256.1(a)-(c)). Responses to a request must be in writing if an agency rejects any part of a request (§6256.2) or gives itself an extension for copies (§6256.1). Deletions are required if part of a request or a particular document is exempt. Nonexempt portions must be provided (§6257). Selective disclosure is prohibited. Once disclosed, a record is public for all (§6254.5).
RECORDS EXEMPT FROM DISCLOSURE: The following examples are exempt in whole or in part. This does not mean that they are not public records or that the agency is prohibited from releasing them. It means that the agency may withhold them. An agency may also allow greater access (§6253.1). Drafts: preliminary drafts, notes and memos, but only if "not retained...in the ordinary course of business" and "the public interest in withholding clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure" (§6254(a)). Draft reports are not exempt if the agency personnel normally keep copies on file. No further analysis is required. (CBE v. Dept of Food and Agriculture, 171 CA3d 704 (1985)). Even if not normally kept, the agency must also show a compelling public interest in nondisclosure. If the draft report contains both facts and a preliminary staff recommendation, only the latter may be withheld, while factual matters must be disclosed (CBE v. Dept of Food and Agriculture). A report may not be withheld on the basis that, e.g., the City Council has not yet seen it. When it goes to a majority of Council members, it becomes a public record under the Brown Act, unless covered by an exception for a closed session (Govt. Code §54957.5). Litigation: Documents involving litigation may be withheld only if: the agency is a party AND only until the matter is finally resolved or settled (§6254(b)). BUT, the complaint (or claim under the Tort Claims Act) must be disclosed (71 Ops.Atty.Gen. 235 (1988)). The exception is limited to records specifically created by the lawyer or agency (attorney work-product), or between the agency and lawyer (attorney-client), for the litigation. An agency may not withhold records predating the litigation, nor everything that "relates" to the litigation, nor, e.g., staff reports or minutes for a project whose approval results in a lawsuit (71 Ops.Atty.Gen. 235 (1988); 87 Ops.Atty.Gen. 304 (1988)).
Settlement records are public (§6254(b); Freedom Newspapers v. Orange County, 158 CA3d 893 (1984)). Personnel: "Personnel, medical, or similar files" may be withheld if disclosure "would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." This is not a generalized "personnel" exception for an entire file, only intimate, private details of a person's life (68 Ops.AG 73 (1985)). There are special rules for police files (Ev. Code §1043). BUT "[e]very employment contract between [an] agency and any public official or public employee is a public record" (§6254.8). Public contracts are not in the personnel exception (San Diego Union v. City Council, 146 CA3d 947 (1983)). Confidential: Data submitted confidentially, or made secret by law, may be withheld (§6254(d)). E.g.: financial data to agencies responsible for banks, securities or insurance companies (§6254(d)); income tax data (6254(i), Rev.& Tax Code §§19572, 19133, 15619); financial data required for a license, certificate or permit (§6254(n)). BUT, financial data used for a public decision, e.g., to set city garbage rates, is public (San Diego Union v. City Council of San Diego, 146 CA3d 947 (1983)). Police: Law enforcement records may be withheld (§6254(f)). BUT the "police blotter" is public, with names and details of arrests, warrants, booking, bail, charges and hearings (§6254(f)(1)), and requests for assistance, including time, occurrence, crime and response. (§6254(f)(2)). Victim names are not public for most sex crimes, child endangerment, spousal abuse, or interference with civil rights (§6254(f)(2)). Rap sheets are not public (Penal Code §§11075, 11105 and 11300). "Investigative files" may be withheld, even after an investigation is complete (§6254(f); Williams v. Superior Court, 5 Cal.4th 341 (1993)).
Also exempt from disclosure: Test material for exams (§6254(g)); library circulation records (§§6254(j), 6267); disclosures prohibited under other laws (§6254(k)); labor negotiation instructions (§6254(p), (q)); home addresses: DMV (§6254.1(b)); public housing (§6254.1(a)); state employees (and phone numbers, §6254.3); active and retired court officials, some lawyers and police (and their phone numbers (§6254.4)); applicants for collection agency licenses (§6254(v)); applicants for concealed weapons permits in limited circumstances (§6254(u)); voting records: petitions for initiatives, referenda and recalls (§6253.5); identities on bilingual ballots (§6253.6); real estate appraisals for agencies considering property transactions (§6254(h)); attorney-client communications, even if an agency is the client, BUT the agency (not the lawyer), may decide to waive it; income tax information on most individuals and businesses is confidential, but nonprofit corporate returns are public at the Attorney General's Registry of Charitable Trusts; family records showing adoptions (Civil Code §227), some data in birth certificates (Health & Safety Code §10125.5) and welfare records (Welfare & Inst. Code §§11478, 10850). _________________________________________________________________
TIPS IN MAKING YOUR REQUEST Ask informally before invoking the law. Try asking more than one agency. Always ask for immediate access and copies. Use this guide to cite the law in your request. You needn't give a reason for asking for records. Put date limits on any search. Don't ask the agency to create a record or a list. Limit pre-authorized costs; pay only copy costs. Demand a written response in 10 days. ________________________________________________________________
WHAT TO DO: IF YOUR REQUEST IS REFUSED State your rights, using this guide, and ask to speak to the highest-ranking official. Keep a log of whom you spoke with, what reason you were given, and get a denial in writing. Write a story or letter to the editor about a denial. Consult your supervisor or attorney or call (see phone numbers at top of this file) if you need help.
TO ENFORCE THE PUBLIC RECORDS ACT An action may be filed in the county
where the records are located, with a hearing set as soon as practicable
(§§6258, 6259(a)). If you win, the agency must pay your costs
and attorney fees (§6259(d); Belth v. Garamendi 232
CA3d 896 (1991)).