Fight brewing with local agencies over CNPA sponsored bill

It is antithetical to the California Public Records Act that seeking information from government can get you sued.

But that’s a growing concern in light of a recent case initiated by the Newark School District to force requester Elizabeth Brazil to return records she was given by the district. The district then asked a court to order her to pay it $500,000 in attorney fees for hailing her into court and forcing her to litigate a public records dispute.

As the East Bay Times reports, the “district’s pursuit of the fees was aimed at punishing people who sought more information about how their local government was being run.”

CNPA is sponsoring legislation to protect requesters like Brazil, who are at risk of being dragged in court for simply receiving documents pursuant to a CPRA request. The chilling effect of allowing such procedure to stand is immense, and the risk to newspapers is obvious.

SB 1244 by Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) would ensure that agencies are prohibited from bring actions like this again in the future.

It is no surprise that the secrecy lobby in the California Capitol wants to kill CNPA’s efforts. The California League of Cities, and the Associations that represent counties and special districts are opposed to SB 1244, arguing that an agency should be allowed to demand the return of inadvertently disclosed documents.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear the bill on May 8.