Public Record Costs
Director of PRA Services and e-Discovery Counsel Christine Wood Discusses National Lawyers Guild v. City of Hayward in Sacramento Magazine
By Christine N. Wood
Within California, the Legislature has provided a constitutional guarantee that the public can access a municipality’s records through the California Public Records Act (PRA), which is codified at Gov. Code § 6250, et seq. “Modeled after the federal Freedom of Information Act, the PRA was enacted for the purpose of increasing freedom of information by giving members of the public access to records in the possession of state and local agencies.” This right to access is broad, but not absolute. The PRA contains specific and narrow exemptions to protect an individual’s privacy interests; for example, personnel or medical records are exempt from disclosure of their release would result in an unwarranted invasion of someone’s privacy. Additionally, the PRA allows an agency to collect the direct costs of duplication, such as the direct cost of making copies, i.e. paper and toner. Otherwise, the public should be able to scrutinize the work of public agencies without the worry of costs.
As you can imagine, technology has reduced the need to photocopy records when providing them to the public. Hence, in 2000, the Legislature amended the PRA to make it easier for agencies to get records to the public and to clarify when the public may need to pay for access to electronic records. Government Code § 6253.9 was added to allow an agency to charge the public for the cost of programming and computer services necessary to produce a copy of the records, if a request requires data compilation, extraction, or programming to produce the record. Interestingly, twenty years after this provision was enacted, the California Supreme Court recently provided guidance as to what the Legislature meant by “extraction” such that the public would have to pay for the public record.
In the matter of National Lawyers Guild v. City of Hayward (2020) 9 Cal.5th 488, the Supreme Court considered whether the City of Hayward could recover its costs to acquire and utilize special computer programming (e.g. Windows Movie Maker software) to extract exempt material from otherwise disclosable body camera footage. Here are the facts.
Read the entire article in the Summer 2020 edition of Sacramento Lawyer.