The California Public Records Act has been on the books since 1968. The goal of the act is to provide the public with any and all information about the operation of the government of the State of California.
The California Public Records Act stipulates that CA agencies are able to keep some information confidential if it is in the best interest of the public to do so. One of the types of information that is often kept private is California personnel information that could be used to defraud public employees or subject them to identity theft. California public employees have the right to privacy, so their birthdays and other personal pieces of information are kept from the public.
However, the government can’t keep information confidential just because there is some personnel information included in a file. California agencies are required to remove the information that pertains to the right to privacy and provide the rest of the information to the public.
The other reason that some information will not be disclosed is so that California government agencies can do their jobs effectively. Information about ongoing investigations, pending litigation, and preliminary notes or memoranda may be kept from the public until the business related to such documents is complete. Sometimes California sheriff’s departments will not release information about warrants that have not yet been served if that information becoming public will prevent them from apprehending alleged criminals.
You should be able to request access to any California public records during the office hours of the agency in possession of them. You should be able to both inspect the records and make a copy if possible. The California Public Records Act applies to all state and local agencies, as well as their officers, bureaus, and departments. Any extensions of such agencies that are created by those agencies also fall under the rule. California nonprofits that are part of local and state agencies are also subject. Courts, the legislature, private nonprofits, and federal agencies are exempt from the California Public Records Act. However, many of these institutions must comply with other laws that mandate the release of records to the public.
The records covered under the California Public Records Act include all types of communication regardless of the form it takes. That means anything in writing, picture, or sound form and any electronic records are accessible to the public.
When a person requests to see public records under the California Public Records Act, they must be granted prompt access and assistance locating the information they are looking for. CA agencies must provide access to records in paper form, not just electronic, so that there is no barrier for individuals who aren’t used to electronic formats. It is illegal to charge money for inspecting public records in California.
If you require copies of the CA public records you are requesting to see, the agency has 10 days to decide whether they will provide you with copies. They are allowed to charge copy costs that are not excessive. They can only charge you what it costs to create the copies. If the California agency does not want to show you a record, they have to prove that the record is exempt or that it is for the greater benefit of the public that the information remains confidential.
When you request public records in California, it’s a good idea to try to ask for access to the records informally, and only bring up the California Public Records Act if your request is refused. The law doesn’t say that you have to put your request in writing, but you might have to if you end up having to put a time limit on your request or if the CA agency is uncooperative. Do your research ahead of time and make sure you’re looking in the right place for the information you need.