The California Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in a case that could allow state and local agencies to charge requesters exorbitant amounts to obtain records under the state’s public records law.

At issue in the case, National Lawyers Guild vs. City of Hayward, is whether government agencies can recover costs associated with searching for, retrieving and reviewing records that are requested pursuant to the CPRA. Existing law limits the costs that agencies can charge to a requester to only “the direct costs of duplication or statutory fee, if any.”

Kelli Sager at Davis Wright Tremaine filed an amicus brief on behalf of CNPA and the First Amendment Coalition arguing that the court should continue to recognize existing law.

The case arises from a CPRA request submitted by the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) to the City of Hayward for written and electronic records related to protests of police shootings in 2014. The city identified certain police body-worn camera (“BWC”) footage as responsive to that request.

However, before it would turn over the videos, the city demanded that NLG pay a fee of more than $3000, purportedly to cover the cost of staff time related to identifying the responsive videos and redacting them. The trial court determined that the CPRA did not permit Hayward to charge these costs to NLG. The Court of Appeal, however, reversed and upheld the fee.

If the appellate court ruling is allowed to stand, agencies could charge high fees to a requester which could be used to obstruct access to disclosable information that the requester would otherwise have a right to obtain.

The Supreme Court will hear the NLG case on March 9.