Bill to bolster protections for public records requesters is approved by governor

Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill on Sept. 17 that fundamentally changes who can recover attorneys fees under the California Public Records Act.

SB 1244 by Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) amends the law to provide that a “requester” has the right to recover attorneys fees. Current law states that only a “plaintiff” can recover fees.

The bill also adds this provision: “(e) Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit a requestor’s right to obtain fees and costs pursuant to subdivision (d) or pursuant to any other law.”

Together, these amendments clarify that the Legislature has always intended the fee recovery law to protect requesters who defend the public’s right to know, regardless of the requester’s technical title in litigation. Increasingly, requesters have been sued by agencies in public records dispute, or are drawn into litigation without being the technical “plaintiff” in the action.

The clarification helps protect requesters who defend their rights, and the broader public’s right of access, in these actions. The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2019.