Legal Alerts Feb 11, 2020

Another SB 1421 Decision Against Law Enforcement Agencies

Police Records Must Be Disclosed Even if Created or Officer Employed By Different Agency, California Appellate Court Says

Another SB 1421 Decision Against Law Enforcement Agencies

The California Attorney General and Department of Justice must disclose all police misconduct records subject to disclosure under Senate Bill 1421, even if another public agency employed the officers or created the records, an appellate court ruled. The Jan. 29 First District Court of Appeal decision is the latest to favor officer record disclosures in a series of lawsuits in response to the controversial SB 1421.
 
The First Amendment Coalition and KQED requested records under the California Public Records Act that were in the DOJ’s possession and subject to disclosure under SB 1421. The DOJ agreed to produce the records of officers it employs, but not of those employed by other state and local law enforcement agencies. The DOJ argued it would be an onerous task for it to review “potentially millions” of records of other agencies’ officers, and that employing agencies would be in the best position to review and determine whether to redact or withhold information from their officers’ records.
 
The appellate court rejected this reasoning for multiple reasons. First, it ruled that statutory language pertaining to officer records unambiguously requires the DOJ disclose all officer records in its possession, regardless of whether or not it is an officer’s employing agency. Second, it cited to the Legislature’s desire to promote greater transparency of officer records through its passage of SB 1421.
 
Third, though the court acknowledged that employing agencies may more effectively review and redact its own officers’ records, it did not want to shield from the public responsive records in the DOJ’s possession. It noted case law rejecting the notion that a record’s location, e.g. at a non-employing agency – rather than its content – determines its confidentiality.
 
Lastly, the court ruled that, though CPRA’s catch-all exemption may apply to officer records, the DOJ fell short of demonstrating that the public interest served by nondisclosure of records clearly outweighed the public interest in disclosure. The court doubted that the DOJ’s records review and consultation with appropriate agencies were as overly burdensome as it had characterized.
 
This decision is just one of the latest showing that courts will favor disclosure of officer records regardless of the burdens SB 1421 may impose on public agencies.
 
For more information about this decision and CPRA issues, please contact the authors 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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