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National Lawyers Guild v. City of Hayward

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  1. Freedom of Information

Amicus brief filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and a coalition of 33 media organizations

Court: California Supreme Court

Date Filed: May 30, 2019

Update: On May 28, 2020, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of the National Lawyers Guild, holding that the California Public Records Act does not permit the city of Hayward to require the NLG to pay for the cost of redacting police bodycam videos requested under the Act.

Background: The National Lawyers Guild submitted a California Public Records Act request for electronic records from the city of Hayward related to certain protests of police shootings in 2014. Hayward identified police bodycam footage in response to the request, but the city refused to turn over the records until the NLG paid a fee of more than $3,000. Hayward said that the fee was to cover the cost of redacting the video.

The NLG sued, arguing that the CPRA does not permit Hayward to charge requesters fees for the time it takes to redact bodycam footage. The trial court ruled that Hayward was not permitted to charge fees, but the California Court of Appeal reversed and upheld the fee. The National Lawyers Guild then appealed to the California Supreme Court.

Our Position: The California Supreme Court should reverse the Court of Appeal’s decision and hold that the CPRA does not permit public agencies to charge requesters costs for redacting electronic or non-electronic public records.

  • The Court of Appeal erred in failing to consider the California Constitution’s mandate that the CPRA be broadly construed in favor of access.
  • Increasing numbers of public records are created and stored electronically, and the ability to charge fees for the cost of redacting them will curtail public access.
  • If upheld, the Court of Appeal’s decision will particularly hinder public access to police bodycam videos.
  • Requiring CPRA requesters to pay the costs of redacting electronic records will mean fewer records are available to the public.

Quote: “Allowing agencies to create insurmountable fee barriers to public records strips the public of any opportunity to meaningfully participate in a democratic system of government, which the California Constitution and CPRA were designed to protect.”

Related: In 2017, the Reporters Committee and seven media organizations filed an amicus brief before a California Court of Appeal in this case. The following year, the Reporters Committee and eight media organizations filed a letter urging the California Supreme Court to review the appeals court’s decision to allow the city to charge $3,000 for redacting the bodycam footage.