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Access to Public Records in California

Mar 5, 2020 | California

California Public Records Act (CPRA)

Everyone has a constitutional right to use the state’s California Public Records Act (CPRA) to access a vast number of California public records.

See the CPRA text in sections 6250 and 6253 of the California Government Code (Cal. Gov’t Code), which states that any person, business, partnership, limited liability company, firm or organization, both within and outside California, can inspect public records in California.

The Records Covered in California

What California Government Bodies Are Covered?

One can examine the public records of state offices, officers, departments, divisions, offices, boards as well as commissions in California and other state agencies and bodies.

You can also audit local authorities’ public records, including counties, cities, school districts, municipal corporations, districts, political subdivisions, local government departments, and non-profit organizations that are a local agency’s legislative bodies. You would not, however, be able to access the records of the California state legislature or its committees, nor of the CPRA state courts.

What Kinds of Records Can Be Requested?

One can review all of the government bodies subject to CPRA’s “public records.”

The phrase “public records” is broadly defined to include information pertaining to the conduct of the business of the public which is prepared, held, used or maintained by any state or local entity regardless of the medium in which it is stored. Look at Cal. Code Gov’t Section 6252(e).

Keep in mind that public records do not extend to public officials’ personal information that is unrelated to the conduct of public business (for example, a telephone message taken from a colleague’s wife about picking up children by a public official), or government-developed computer software.

What Are the Exemptions?

An agency can decline to provide a record if “the public interest served by not making the record clear outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record” in a particular case. (Cal. Gov’t Code Section 6255.

In addition to this general exception, if one or more of the following strictly interpreted statutory provisions apply, an entity is allowed (but not required) to deny disclosure. A long list of specific exemptions is set out in the Act (Cal. Gov’t Code Section 6254), including:

  • Preliminary drafts memorandums or documents. Pre-decision deliberative communications which the public agency does not maintain in the ordinary course of business do not need to be released if the public interest in keeping such documents clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure.
  • Litigation still pending. The exception refers to documents relating to pending litigation to which the public agency is a party, including the result of attorney’s work and documentation created by the agency in preparation of litigation, but not including transcripts for deposition.
  • Private personal data. Files related to personnel, medical, wage, financial, job applications or the like are exempted from disclosure if disclosure would contain an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
  • Information to taxpayers. Data submitted in confidence by an individual and financial data provided in funding applications under the Health and Safety Code is excluded if the disclosure of information to other individuals will result in an unfair competitive disadvantage for the person providing the information.
  • Law enforcement. Reports of law enforcement agencies’ grievances, inquiries, intelligence reports, security procedures and other information are withheld from release.

Do you have any questions or concerns about your access to public records in California? Our attorneys at KAASS LAW may be able to help you out. Give us a call at 310-933-5171 for more information!