California Supreme Court Accepts Amicus Briefs on Behalf of SPJ NorCal, Others

The California Supreme Court has accepted an amicus brief on behalf of SPJ NorCal and the Pacific Media Workers Guild in the case National Lawyers Guild v. City of Hayward, which has ramifications for the cost which public agencies can legally charge requesters for electronic records.

The brief, authored by attorney Christine Peek, a partner at the law firm McManis Faulkner, urges the court to reverse a lower ruling that goes against the intent of the California Public Records Act. If the lower court’s decision stands, it could allow public agencies to effectively deny access to records by demanding exorbitant fees.

Peek writes:

“If the Court of Appeal’s opinion stands, public agencies may
effectively deny access to an increasing number of public records by simply
pricing journalists with fewer financial resources out of the marketplace of
ideas. Agencies can more easily block access to information they deem
sensitive, by demanding exorbitant fees for information they in their sole
discretion decide is exempt and must be redacted. High fees widen the gap
in access to justice between rich and poor, and exacerbate economic
inequality. This result subverts the will of the Legislature and the voters.
The Legislature intended agencies to bear the cost of compliance
with laws protecting the right of access, except for the direct cost of
reproduction, and certain costs associated with electronic records under. the
limited circumstances described in section 6253.9. (See Gov. Code, §§
6253, subd. (b), 6253.9, subd. (b)(2).) The Court of Appeal’s opinion must
be reversed in order to give effect to the Legislature’s intent, and the will of
the voters in making the right of access a matter of constitutional
importance.”

SPJ NorCal and the Guild jointly filed the brief on behalf of requesters who lack the institutional funding of established media organizations, such as freelance journalists, bloggers, and student journalists.

“Our society increasingly depends on independent news outlets to enforce the public’s constitutional right of access. If this ruling stands, it would discourage government transparency and create a barrier whereby only the wealthy can afford to use the CPRA to hold the government accountable,” Peek said. “This issue is of tremendous importance to the public.”

Read the full brief below:

SPJ_Nor_Cal_and_ Pacific Media Workers Guild_amicus_brief_NLG_v_Hayward