New Book: The CalAware Guide to Public Records and Private Information in California

Written as a reference for journalists, government officials, and others seeking access to public records, The CalAware Guide to Public Records and Private Information in California examines the California statutes that permit, limit, or bar public access to records created and maintained by California agencies, courts, and legislative bodies, including those records that contain private or confidential information about individuals. A user-friendly index helps researchers quickly determine if a particular type of record is discussed in the Guide.

The majority of the text concerns the California Public Records Act “CPRA” (Gov. Code § 6250 et seq.), the law governing access to records in the possession of state and local agencies. Although the Act creates a presumption of public access to agency records, requiring an agency to promptly comply with copying and inspection requests, some types of records are explicitly exempt from disclosure. Summarizing applicable statutory provisions and relevant case law, the author identifies the types of agency records that are subject to disclosure, and those that are exempt. Government Code § 6255 affords agencies some discretion to withhold records that contain confidential or sensitive information, articulating a balancing test that weighs public interest in disclosure against the need to preserve individual privacy rights.

The Guide discusses strategies for enforcing access rights if an agency fails to comply with an inspection request. A sample request letter advising the agency of its response obligations is provided. If the requestor believes that the agency is wrongfully withholding records, he or she may bring an action for injunctive or declaratory relief, or seek a writ to compel disclosure. Outcomes of pervious suits brought under CPRA are examined.

Later sections discuss public access to judicial and legislative records. Although there is a presumption of access to both civil and criminal case records, the author explains that some court records may be sealed, available only to the parties involved in the suit, while others are confidential by statute, or available to the public for a limited time period. Access to California legislative records is governed by the Legislative Open Records Act “LORA” (Gov. Code § 9070 et seq.). Under this Act, preliminary drafts, notes, and legislative memoranda are generally exempt from disclosure.

The CalAware Guide to Public Records and Private Information in California is available at Main Library in Oakland for in-library use.

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