The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed an amicus brief on behalf of a coalition of media and transparency organizations in the California Court of Appeals to support public access to government records. The case involves access to law enforcement records under California’s Public Records Act (PRA). The original request in the case sought records from the San Diego Police Department regarding six months’ worth of complaints and/or requests for assistance with respect to burglary and identity theft. While the police department released 60 days’ worth of records, it refused to release them for the full six months requested, stating that their obligation to respond under the PRA was “limited to current information of contemporaneous police activity.” That decision was upheld by the Superior Court of California, resulting in an appeal. The Reporters Committee filed a “friend of the court” brief in support of the requester, and was joined by a broad coalition of California media and transparency organizations, including Californians Aware, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the First Amendment Coalition, Digital First Media, the Los Angeles Times, and the McClatchy Company.
The brief of the coalition argues that the ruling of the lower court affirming the decision to withhold records older than 60 days is “not only inconsistent with the express language and purpose of the PRA, but it will also have far-reaching, damaging effects on the ability of the press to gather and report information of vital public concern.” The coalition brief argued that there was no justification in the law for the 60-day limit, and that the ruling of the lower court would place substantial burdens on journalists who need access to long-term public records.