Hocus pocus on Californians’ access to public records

If the Legislature had been a magic current, San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott would deserve an award for the darkish arts in her skillful, albeit deeply disturbing, sleight-of-hand.

She crafted a model new bill, launched by San Diego-area Democratic Sen. Ben Hueso, that may magically make the California Public Records Act go away.

Her present safety of that legal guidelines, Senate Bill 615, is the definition of a Vegas-style smoke-and-mirrors act.

Writing in a Times of San Diego column, Elliott argues that the legal guidelines is an enchancment on the state’s open-records regulation which will “speed access to public information while avoiding unnecessary lawsuits resulting from innocent mistakes.” In particular, she complains about “an avalanche” of public-records requests and a lawsuit the place her metropolis was assessed an enormous advantageous for an innocent mistake.

Her reply is a bill that “would require public agencies and record-seekers to engage in a ‘meet and confer’ session — basically, a simple conversation to resolve disputes in good faith before misunderstandings can escalate.” Elliott fails to level out, in her whole column, the bad-faith change that her legal guidelines would make in the best way wherein governments modify to public-record requests.

Currently, journalists and members of the public who’re irritated by public firms that acquired’t current sought-after public paperwork in a nicely timed vogue have the selection of going to courtroom. The current regulation’s tooth is on the market in a provision that lets the document-seeker recoup licensed costs if the corporate doesn’t current the paperwork contained in the licensed timeframe — or current a proof for why the info is exempt from disclosure.

This legal guidelines “would require that in order for a requester to prevail in litigation related to the act, the trial court must find by a preponderance of the evidence that an agency knowingly, willfully and without substantial justification failed to respond to a request for records.” That is an virtually not doable commonplace for anyone to meet, not to point out a member of the public who merely is looking for value vary information from City Hall.

Unless an official admits — publicly or in an e-mail — to willfully withholding information, there could possibly be no means to win authorized skilled’s fees. Few residents or reporters have tens of tons of of lying spherical, so few will sue to get records. Without an precise menace of paying licensed fees, many officers will merely deny skilled records as a matter in spite of everything.

Even that reasonable-sounding “meet and confer” language is the equal of a cheesy parlor trick. That measure would give authorities officers additional time to delay. A document-seeker will request that an firm current information. The official will take the same old 10 days or additional to reply — after which it might take for for much longer to get a gathering with the corporate. And then additional delay. If one does go to courtroom, the deck now’s stacked throughout the authorities’s path.

Government firms already have a great deal of strategies up their sleeve to withhold sought-after paperwork. Elliott says she merely wishes to “streamline” access to public records and in the reduction of lawsuits. However, she’s merely using hocus pocus to cowl up the bill’s precise intent, which is to make it extra sturdy for members of the public to compel an firm to current them with the public’s private paperwork.

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