Legal Alerts Apr 11, 2019

California Court of Appeal Publishes Opinion Requiring Release of Police Personnel Records Under SB 1421

Decision is Binding on All Trial Courts in the State

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In the first decision by a higher court on a controversial new law that makes some police personnel records available under the Public Records Act, a California appellate court ruled that Senate Bill 1421 applies to records created before its Jan. 1 effective date. The publication of that decision on March 29 means that it is now binding on all California trial courts. That will change if it is overturned by the California Supreme Court or another appellate court reaches a contrary decision — in which case a trial court would be free to choose between the two differing appellate decisions.
 
The decision stems from a case brought by six Contra Costa County police unions to block the release of pre-2019 records under SB 1421. In February, a Contra Costa Superior Court judge ruled that the new law was not a “retroactive” statute, but applied to records requests made after Jan.1, and reached records created prior to 2019 without violating any police officers’ rights. The police unions appealed and requested a stay of the ruling.
 
As they had in the trial court, the police unions argued that applying the new law to records created prior to 2019 constituted an improper retroactive application. In its two-page opinion, the First District Court of Appeal found that argument to be “without merit,” writing: “Although the records may have been created prior to 2019, the event necessary to ‘trigger application’ of the new law — a request for records maintained by an agency — necessarily occurs after the law’s effective date.” So, it was the date the record was requested, not the date it was created, that matters for purposes of SB 1421’s application. Somewhat unusually for an appellate court, rather than explaining its reasoning at length, the appellate court backed its conclusion about the law by referring to the reasons stated in the 32-page, fully reasoned, lower court ruling. The appellate court also set the stay to expire a week after the decision.
 
For more information about this decision and how it may impact your agency, contact the author of this Legal Alert listed at the right in the firm’s ARC: Advanced Records Center, or your BB&K attorney.
 
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Disclaimer: BB&K Legal Alerts are not intended as legal advice. Additional facts or future developments may affect subjects contained herein. Seek the advice of an attorney before acting or relying upon any information in this communiqué.

BB&K is helping public agencies navigate Public Records Act compliance with our new Advanced Records Center. Combining legal know-how with cutting-edge technology, ARC provides comprehensive and cost-effective support for all records-related matters, including PRA requests. To learn more, visit the ARC page or email ARC@bbklaw.com

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