The California Public Records Act provides for public inspection of records maintained by state and local agencies and declares that “access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state.”  To effectuate the public’s right to see public records subject to disclosure, the PRA allows any person to institute proceedings for injunctive or declarative relief or writ of mandate.  Moreover, the “prevailing party” in PRA litigation is entitled to attorney fees.  The fee award “is mandatory if the plaintiff prevails.”

As the Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District wrote on August 15, 2017 in Sukumar v. City of San Diego, __ Cal.App.5th __ (Case No. D071527), the “losing party may still be deemed a prevailing party entitled to an attorney fee award.”  The rationale is that the plaintiff has prevailed under the PRA when he or she files an action that results in the defendant public agency releasing a copy of a previously withheld document.  Thus, a plaintiff need not achieve a favorable final judgment to be a prevailing party in PRA litigation.  A defendant’s voluntary action in providing public records that is induced by a plaintiff’s lawsuit will still support an attorney fee award if the lawsuit “spurred defendant to act or was a catalyst speeding defendant’s response.”

Continue Reading Petitioner is Prevailing Party Entitled to Attorney Fees Where Undisputed Evidence Proves that Writ Petition Motivated City to Produce Responsive Documents

On March 2, 2017, in what is easily the sunniest day in this long, wet winter, the Supreme Court of California issued a landmark ruling regarding the California Public Records Act (Cal. Govt. Code § 6250 et seq.), holding that communications related to the conduct of public business do not cease to be public records merely because they were sent or received using a personal account.  City of San Jose v. Superior Court (Smith), __ Cal.4th __ (2016) (Case No. S218066).  The Court’s cogent opinion ensures broad access to public records in all forms and in all locations, including emails and text messages located on private accounts, devices, and servers.

Continue Reading California Supreme Court Holds that Communications Related to Public Business do not Cease to be Public Records Just Because They Were Sent or Received Using a Personal Account or Device

On March 17, 2016, the California Supreme Court resolved an important case regarding the California Public Records Act, ruling unanimously that the inadvertent release of confidential documents  does not waive the attorney-client and attorney work product privileges.  Ardon v. City of Los Angeles, 62 Cal.4th 1176 (2016).  The privileges are only waived when the disclosure of otherwise confidential public records is intentional.

Continue Reading Accidental Disclosure Of Public Records Does Not Waive The Attorney-Client And Attorney Work Product Privileges