California

Sander & The First Amendment Coalition v. State Bar of California et al.

January 31, 2018

The Reporters Committee and 13 media organizations filed an amicus brief in a case in the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, challenging the trial court's holding denying of a request under the California Public Records Act by a law professor and the First Amendment Coalition for a database concerning applicants to the State Bar of California. The trial court denied the request in part because it held that the processes for anonymizing the database proposed by the requesters would constitute the creation of a new record, which is not required under the CPRA. The amicus brief argues that the CPRA specifically contemplates anonymization of records and that the process of anonymization is not the same as the creation of a new record. The amicus brief further argues that the trial court gave insufficient weight to the public interest served by disclosure of the records sought by the requesters.

National Conference of Black Mayors v. Chico Community Publishing

January 24, 2018

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and the National Conference of Black Mayors (NCBM) filed a reverse-California Public Records Act (CPRA) lawsuit to block the release of records requested by the Sacramento News & Review (SN&R) related to Johnson's use of public resources for his work as president of the NCBM. Though the SN&R ultimately obtained hundreds of pages of records through the litigation, the trial court denied the paper's motion seeking attorneys' fees. SN&R appealed, arguing that it is entitled to attorneys fees under the mandatory fee-shifting provision of the CPRA. The Reporters Committee and 14 media organizations filed an amicus brief supporting SN&R's appeal of the fee denial.

Pasadena Police Officers Assoc. v. City of Pasadena, Los Angeles Times

July 17, 2017

After the Los Angeles Times filed a California Public Records Act ("CPRA") request for a report regarding an officer-involved shooting, the police officers' union filed a reverse-CPRA lawsuit to prevent the release of the report. Despite obtaining the release of almost the entirety of the report, the Times was awarded only a fraction of its attorneys' fees. The newspaper appealed to the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District. RCFP, CNPA, and 14 other media organizations argued that reverse-CPRA lawsuits are contrary to both the language and intent of the CPRA and undermine the CPRA's fundamental purpose to provide public access to government records. However, even assuming that reverse-CPRA actions should be permitted in certain circumstances, requesters must be afforded the same protections in reverse-CPRA actions that they are entitled to in any other action brought under the CPRA.

LAPD Bodycam Policy Comments

May 6, 2017

The Reporters Committee and a coalition of news media organizations submitted comments to the Los Angeles Police Commission concerning the development of a policy for releasing body-worn camera (BWC or bodycam) videos of "critical incidents," such as such as when an individual dies in police custody. The comments highlighted the importance of compliance with the California Public Records Act (CPRA), and urged videos of critical incidents to be proactively released to the press and the public.

Hassell v. Bird

April 17, 2017

In an appeal to the California Supreme Court, Yelp challenged a decision finding that it had to obey an injunction requiring the removal of content that had been adjudicated as libelous. Yelp had argued that it should not be subject to the order since it did not have an opportunity to defend the posts. On appeal, amici emphasized that the implications of that ruling extend beyond Yelp and that the decisions of the trial court and the Court of Appeal undermine the protections of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. If the Court of Appeal's decision is permitted to stand, Internet platforms that provide space for comment and discussion, like many news media websites, will effectively see their First Amendment interests in their forums curtailed without an opportunity to object, undermining the vitality of such forums as a place for the public to debate issues.

Hassell v. Bird

August 10, 2016

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, together with 30 other media organizations, filed an amicus letter brief with the California Supreme Court urging it to review a case in which Yelp was ordered to take down material from its site without notice or an opportunity to be heard. A trial court had entered a default judgment in a libel suit after the defendant failed to appear and contest the suit. The plaintiff then sought and received an injunction requiring Yelp to remove the reviews. Two courts found that Yelp was bound by the injunction. The amicus letter argued that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act immunizes online services providers from injunctions, an injunction restraining speech of a nonparty is an improper remedy for a defamation action, and the lower courts improperly required a content distributor to remove speech before allowing an opportunity to be heard.

Courthouse News Service v. Planet

March 22, 2016

Courthouse News Service (CNS) has asked the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to grant a motion for summary judgment in a case CNS filed against the Ventura County Superior Court over policies the court instituted that delay access to newly filed civil complaints. As part of its business model, CNS has a team of reporters that regularly review and report on complaints the day they are filed. CNS’s ability to inform the public about important judicial actions is hindered when its reporters cannot access complaints in a timely manner. The Reporters Committee and 12 other media organizations, writing in support of CNS's motion for summary judgment, argued that a First Amendment right of access attaches to civil complaints immediately upon the document’s submission to the court. Additionally, the Reporters Committee stressed that timeliness is a fundamental element of newsworthiness.

ACLU of Southern California & EFF v. Superior Court

May 4, 2016

The ACLU of Southern California and Electronic Frontier Foundation are suing Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the City of Los Angeles under California\'s Public Records Act for records generated by the law enforcement agency's use of automated license plate readers. This case concerns whether information collected by police using "automated license plate readers" - high-speed cameras that automatically scan and record the license plate numbers and time, date and location of every passing vehicle without suspicion of criminal activity - constitute law enforcement "records of . . . investigations" that are permanently exempt from disclosure. We argued that the agencies proposed a definition of "records of . . . investigations" that would expand the exemption beyond recognition.

Electronic Arts, Inc. v. Brown

April 18, 2016

Former NFL fullback James (Jim) Brown claims Electronic Arts violated his right of publicity after including his biographical and statistical information in Madden NFL, a video game that allows users to simulate NFL games and play as their favorite NFL players. The Reporters Committee, with eight other media organizations, filed an amicus brief in the California Court of Appeal arguing that the First Amendment shields EA's limited use of Brown's likeness in a constitutionally protected video game because it contains speech on matters of public interest and does not survive strict scrutiny as a content-based restriction. Brown's claims are also barred under California's public affairs exemption and applicable case law. Amici further contend EA's speech must be protected to prevent chilling effects on speech and encourage the news industry to continue evolving as technology advances.

Angel v. Winograd

December 21, 2015

Marcy Winograd appealed a California Superior Court’s denial of her anti-SLAPP motion after being sued for allegedly defaming a local petting zoo by writing online articles and publicly protesting what she believed were inhumane conditions at the zoo. The Superior Court found evidence establishing actual malice based on the fact animal control officers found no violations after investigating the zoo and Winograd continued objecting to the zoo conditions, relying on her own personal observations and information from two trusted sources. In an amicus brief, the Reporters Committee and five other media organizations urge the California Court of Appeal to reverse the Superior Court’s unprecedented interpretation of the actual malice standard.