Public Forum Law Week in Review: 3/28/08

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(CalAware Weekly comprises this plus the four previous posts)

Open Government

City Being Sued for Destroying E-mails Too Soon        The San Bernardino Sun reports  that a Colton city policy allowing internal e-mails to be deleted after 30 days has an Arcadia attorney and a local businessman fuming. Cynthia Puertas, an attorney acting on behalf of nightclub owner Henry Aguila, and pizza restaurateur Gary Grossich contend e-mails are public record and should be archived by the city for a minimum of two years, as public-record law mandates.

Editorial: Transparency Still Essential to Democracy
       The Benicia Times-Herald says that the idea of Sunshine Week—marked last week—would likely make our Founding Fathers smile.

Congressional Transparency One Element of Lessig Plan
       Wired magazine reports that Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig last week launched an ambitious project that aims to use collaborative software to harness the extraordinary levels of pent-up political energy and dissatisfaction that voters have shown over the past two years with their members of Congress. The Change Congress program says it’s “organizing citizens to push candidates to make four simple commitments,” including “changes in the law and rules of Congress to get all members to be more public about meetings and contacts, including changing the rules so lawmakers post weekly updates of their campaign contributions, meetings with registered lobbyist, their latest earmark requests and significant changes in their personal wealth.”

Free Speech

Mayor: Olympic Torch Protests Won’t be Hassled     The San Francisco Chronicle reports that groups pressuring Mayor Gavin Newsom to release more information about plans for next month’s Olympic torch run through the city received a written commitment from officials Wednesday that police would not restrict protests.

Campus Gossip Site Prompting Official Concern        The Daily News in Los Angeles reports that some of those posting on JuicyCampus.com have put up such nasty comments that a growing chorus of students and lawmakers is denouncing the site and calling for action. The California Attorney General’s Office said it will review a request by state Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont, to investigate the site.

Free Press

Judge Relents, Lets Reporter Back in Courtroom       The Stockton Record reports  that one of its reporters who was ordered out of the courtroom last week in the trial of one-time fugitive Eric Hu can attend after all despite his being a potential witness in the case, a judge ruled the following day. The reporter wrote a story last year based on a jailhouse interview with Hu, who is accused of attempted murder and of escaping jail and leading police on a sensational manhunt.

Chief Justice Names Court-Media Committee Panel       California Chief Justice Ronald M. George has announced the appointment of the Judicial Council’s Bench Bar Media Steering Committee, a panel that will help foster improved understanding and working relationships among California judges, lawyers, and journalists who cover legal issues and the courts. The committee is charged with recommending areas of responsibility and study for a larger Bench Bar Media Committee, to be appointed later this year.

Comment: Shrinking Capitol Press Corps Bad News     Writing in the Sacramento Bee, a former press secretary for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger predicts that the sharp and continuing decline in numbers of reporters covering state government from Sacramento will result in a sharp degradation in the quality of the public’s awareness of political and governmental issues.

Open Meetings

Court: CSU Personnel Session Broke No Law       The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a state appeals court has ruled that California State University trustees acted legally when they held a closed-door meeting in March 2006 to consider the return of former Chancellor Barry Munitz from an eight-year leave to a high-salaried teaching position.

Editorial Questions ‘Special’ Meetings Routine     The San Diego Union-Tribune takes issue with the Encinitas City Council’s custom of using special meetings—with their relatively short public notice requirement—for all closed sessions on litigation, and then failing to report any action taken at the regular meeting, held only hours later.

Officials Meet Congressman without Public Notice
     The San Bernardino Sun reports that a majority of the Rialto City Council joined officials from several local government agencies in a February 27 Washington, D.C. meeting with Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino, with no special meeting notice posted to alert the public.

Public Information

Judge Won’t Seal Transcripts in Jail Inmate’s Death       The Los Angeles Times reports that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has lost its bid to extend the seal on thousands of pages of transcripts from a grand jury investigation into the October 2006 death of a jail inmate. The department was also denied the right to review the testimony before being released to the public.

Newspaper Does Its Own Information Practices Audit       The Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot reports that in observance of Sunshine Week last week it “asked various public officials for information as a sort of test to see how accessible and transparent they are. Terry Francke, an expert with the open government advocacy group  Californians Aware, helped us assess how the agencies responded.”

Columnist: Sex Crime Victims’ Identities Not Public       Writing in the Redding Record Searchlight, columnist Silas Lyons seeks to reassure sex crime victims that they should not hesitate to report their experience to the police out of fear that they would be identified in press reports.  Newspapers protect victims’ privacy as a matter of policy, he says, and in any event police do not release their identities as a matter of law.

Few Details on Donations for Governor’s Suite     The Sacramento Bee reports that private donors have paid for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s presidential suite at the Hyatt Regency Sacramento ever since he became governor in 2003, but his office has not documented the gifts for years.

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The Tri-Valley Herald in Pleasanton reports that the state’s Third District Court of Appeal is scheduled to hear arguments May 20 regarding whether a Tracy city councilwoman’s e-mails sent from her home computer are public documents. The Tracy Press originally sued the city to obtain e-mails Councilwoman Suzanne Tucker sent from her home computer to officials at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory regarding a proposed bio-agriculture research facility.

Meanwhile a federal judge in a Freedom of Information Act suit to obtain White House e-mails resident on Republican National Committee private servers has concluded that “the nature of the server is not necessarily informative as to whether the document contained official or political communications," and a “knowledge resources” think tank has written to Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to express its

concern about the practices undertaken by U.S. government officials that monitor and implement trade policies in the area of pharmaceutical drugs and intellectual property rights. There is evidence of the practice of using commercial email accounts, such as Yahoo and Hotmail, in order to avoid communications being searchable and subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Budgeting Committees behind Closed Doors

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It’s once again the season for cities, counties, school districts and other local governments to begin matching foreseeable income to existing or desired programs for the coming fiscal year and, times being what they are, often deciding which Peter to rob to pay which Paul.  The budget proposals see the first light of day in committees of less than a majority of the city council, board of supervisors or school trustees, who will later deliver preliminary recommendations to the governing body. 

Or rather they should see the first light of day in these committees.  In too many cases, the involved officials would just as soon discuss and decide recommended cutbacks, closed facilities or transferred resources behind closed doors—delaying the inevitable protests from staff members or program beneficiaries, and avoiding what may be premature anxieties or misleading rumors about budget options that may never be pursued.  This aversion is perfectly understandable as a human tendency, but it also fails to recognize that a big part of what officials are elected to do is precisely to use their judgment in making often distasteful and sometimes painful choices in how public money will be spent, standing ready to account for what they decide.  It also fails to acknowledge that discussions and preliminary decisions shielded from public observation may suffer from  misinformation and faulty assumptions that early public feedback might have corrected.

The officials choosing secrecy for this process typically note that, under the Ralph M. Brown Act, while standing committees of less than a majority of the governing body are subject to all the open meeting rules that apply to the parent body, an ad hoc committee of less than a majority—which has no “continuing subject matter jurisdiction” or “meeting schedule fixed by charter, ordinance, resolution, or formal action” of the parent body, can meet privately.  They argue that a budget committee has no more continuity than a few meetings over a few weeks or months in the spring, and thus is exempt from Brown Act requirements.

That position reads the phrase “continuing subject matter jurisdiction” narrowly, contrary to the California Constitutional requirement added by Proposition 59 of 2004 that language extending the open meeting requirement (in this case, to committee work) must be read broadly.  While budgeting committees do not meet throughout the calendar, they do have a perfectly recurring periodic function—a continuity of jurisdiction or delegated purpose from one year to the next.  The direct analogy is provided by the budget committees of the Assembly and Senate in Sacramento, which are classified as standing committees and which are required to meet openly the same as any other committee.

When local budget committees deny application of the open meeting requirement, those not allowed in or asked to leave are usually reporters.  Just yesterday for example, the Grass Valley Union notes, the Nevada County Supervisors’ Budget Review Committee, comprising two supervisors, gave a private audience to a representative of local chambers of commerce which were jointly requesting a $125,000 subsidy for 2008-2009—up from the $115,000 received for this fiscal year. A representative for the nonprofit Economic Resource Council was also present to ask for $85,000—up $10,000 from the current year’s grant.  But the newspaper adds,

A reporter from The Union was denied access into the budget committee meeting  . . . Closing the meeting to the public was justified, because the two committee members— supervisors Ted Owens and Hank Weston—did not constitute a quorum of the five-person board, according to County Counsel Rob Shulman.

But the permanent or standing character of the committee is underscored by an entry on the Committees and Commissions page of the county website, which lists “BUDGET REVIEW COMMITTEE (established in 1997) (meets frequently in Spring).”

Not long ago a similar confrontation occurred in Glenn County, where the Sacramento Valley Mirror in Willows reported that the Board of Supervisors terminated its two-member budget committee as the only way to keep its reporter out, leaving all budget recommendations to be developed by department heads.  The Mirror is now suing the supervisors for keeping the reporter out of the committee meeting, which had been public in prior years.

A Forum Created by the Badged Brotherhood

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The heads of unions and other professional fraternities of peace officers in California are complaining about a website, RateMyCop.com,  which invites anyone to post either praise or complaints about specific, named uniformed officers they have encountered or observed.  The fact is, these groups’ work over the years to keep officer misbehavior secret has created a vacuum of information that some Internet forum was bound to fill.  They made RateMyCop.com inevitable.

For perspective, courts have ruled that under the California Public Records Act, substantiated or even simply highly credible complaints of misconduct by identified state and local government employees are matters of public record, not matters of privacy or otherwise confidential.  The same goes for information as to what if any discipline the governmental employer imposed after concluding the complaints were well-founded.  But this general rule of disclosure of government workers’ misconduct does not apply to police and sheriff’s officers, prison guards and the wide variety of badged and sworn state and local government agents embraced by the term “peace officers.”

Instead, the law makes confidential under Penal Code Section 832.8, subdivisions (d) and (e), personnel files maintained by the officer’s employer containing

employee advancement, appraisal, or discipline (and) complaints, or investigations of complaints, concerning an event or transaction in which he or she participated, or which he or she perceived, and pertaining to the manner in which he or she performed his or her duties.

This information can be obtained only by court order for discovery as part of a criminal prosecution (for example where the defendant wants to impeach his arresting officer’s credibility by documenting a history of dishonesty) or a civil lawsuit (for example where the plaintiff alleging excessive use of force seeks to document past complaints of the same kind), and is utterly unreachable under the California Public Records Act.  And these laws have expansive effects.  The California Supreme Court in 2006 interpreted their implications to mean that when a sheriff’s deputy appeals an imposition of discipline to the county civil service commission, information about the complaint and investigative findings—previously entering the public record in that normally public proceeding—is also exempt from disclosure to the public.

Last year peace officer advocacy groups argued to the Supreme Court that these secrecy laws made even officers’ pay confidential, as well as the bare facts of when they were hired and when they left an employer agency.  The court balked at those extremes, however, and ruled against them in two key decisions: International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, Local 21, AFL-CIO v. Superior Court, and Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training v. Superior Court. Nonetheless, as noted by the San Francisco Chronicle in a 2006 analysis,

In California, unlike much of the country, police disciplinary records and citizen complaints against officers are kept secret by law.
    By contrast, at least 30 states allow partial or complete public access to police personnel records.
But here, where the disciplinary records of numerous professions—including doctors, lawyers and accountants—are readily accessible to consumers, the public is largely kept in the dark, even when officers have a continuing pattern of misconduct.
    The confidentiality law was enacted a quarter-century ago at the urging of law enforcement lobbying organizations.

And dozens of such local, regional and statewide groups can be counted on to send representatives to the Capitol when any bill threatens of undo this jealously guarded and comprehensive secrecy.  As CalAware reported last June 29, for example,

Hopes for reopening a small window on the process and outcome of peace officer discipline proceedings this year were extinguished this week. No member of the Assembly Committee on Public Safety would even make a courtesy motion to prompt a vote on Senator Gloria Romero’s SB 1019 when the bill had its hearing this past Tuesday. Instead, given the presence and scarcely veiled threat of political retaliation by a contingent estimated at more than 100 union officials representing police, sheriff’s, probation and other peace officers and prison guards, the committee members left it up to Chairman Jose Solorio (D-Anaheim) to signal that while some form of sunshine on officer brutality, dishonesty and other misconduct might be acceptable in principle, the officer unions would always have a veto on any particular legislative proposal.
    SB 1019  . . . would have given public agencies employing peace or correctional officers the authority to resume whatever open civil service appeal proceedings and hearings of police review boards they had in place up to a year ago, unless special circumstances threatening officer safety or investigative effectiveness, specified by the law enforcement agency employing the officer, dictated otherwise. That previous openness was ended by a decision of the California Supreme Court last summer . . .

SB 1019 still sits in the committee, where it could still be taken up for a vote this spring.  A San Jose Mercury News editorial urges its passage, citing a recent incident in which a deputy sheriff drove his patrol car across a double yellow line, seriously injuring one bicyclist and killing two others.  The deputy was convicted in 2001 of being involved in an unlawful speed contest, a plea reduced from a charge of drunk driving, according to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office, and reportedly was seen by witnesses as asleep at the time of the incident.  Says the editorial:

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith is profusely apologetic. She has accepted responsibility, on behalf of her department, for the tragic accident that led to the deaths of two bicyclists and serious injury of a third earlier this month. The California Highway Patrol is investigating the traffic accident, in which a deputy sheriff drove his patrol car across the yellow line to hit the bicyclists on Stevens Canyon Road in Cupertino. The sheriff’s department is conducting an internal investigation, and the injured bicyclist plans to file a civil suit. Facts should come out. But the public will never know what disciplinary action Smith may decide to take against deputy James Council. That’s because state law protects cops from public scrutiny. In incidents that escape public view, people have no way of even knowing officers have been accused of misconduct, let alone the outcome.

The RateMyCop.com site is no substitute for the kind of detailed, official disclosure of fault and accountability that is now precluded by the police performance secrecy law and that SB 1019 would in part remedy.  But meanwhile it allows citizens to share with one another the positive and negative episodes they have experienced with officers in their communities, and despite rumblings by some that legislation will be attempted to shut it down, no bill is likely to get far if it proposes to make unlawful the posting of public information or citizens’ reports and comment, which as a prior restraint would violate both the First Amendment and the California Constitution. 

There would be no such barrier to a measure making police department rosters confidential information, but politically such a move to create a literal “secret police” state would seem very unappealing to lawmakers.  Moreover, an amendment to the California Constitution now provides that any legislation to limit disclosure under sunshine laws like the Public Records Act must be adopted “with findings demonstrating the interest protected by the limitation and the need for protecting that interest.” Such findings would likely be viewed as dubious by the courts,  and by the California Supreme Court in particular, which in the recent Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training case commented:

We find no well-established social norm that recognizes a need to protect the identity of all peace officers.  Peace officers operate in the public realm on a daily basis, and identify themselves to the members of the public with whom they deal.  Indeed, uniformed peace officers are required to wear a badge or nameplate with the officer’s name or identification number.
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The Commission asserts that in light of the “dangerous and demanding work” performed by peace officers, releasing such information to the public creates a “potential for mischief.”  We readily acknowledge that throughout the state there are some officers working in agencies who, because of their particular responsibilities, require anonymity in order to perform their duties effectively or to protect their own safety.  . . .  If the duties of a particular officer, such as one who is operating undercover, demand anonymity, the need to protect the officer’s safety and effectiveness certainly would justify the Commission in withholding information identifying him or her . . . But “[t]he prospect that somehow this information in the hands of the press will increase the danger to some . . . cannot alone support a finding in favor of nondisclosure as to all.”  (CBS, Inc. v. Block (1986) 42 Cal.3d 646, 652.)

And even if legislation to make police rosters secret were somehow passed and validated in a court challenge, unless the Legislature also removed identity information from officer’s uniforms, citizens armed with those names or numbers and filing official complaints about their treatment at the hands of the identified officers could simply ask for a copy of their complaint—to which they are entitled by law—and forward it to a website like RateMyCop.com.  The complainant would be absolutely privileged by one or more provisions of Civil Code Section 47 in posting the complaint, and the site’s operator would be immune from liability under federal law for providing an online forum for such postings.

A casual browsing of RateMyCop.com leaves the distinct impression that so far, people are using it to commend officers’ performance at least as often if not oftener than to condemn it.  But if the leaders of California’s professional officer organizations want to make the site less attractive as a forum for branding officers with false or unfair allegations, the most effective step—and likely the only step—they can take is to permit changes in the law to expose to public scrutiny the tiny minority of officers found to be abusive or unfit for the uniform in investigations conducted by the agencies that employ them.  A good start would be allowing passage of SB 1019.

Two Bills Would Curb Some Nondisclosure Clauses

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Legislation aimed at barring nondisclosure agreements that are used to block release to the public of certain consumer or even governmental information got their first hearings this week. SB 1300 by Senator Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) was amended in the Senate Health Committee in the face of strong opposition from the California Hospital Association and similar health care provider alliances.  The bill was originally worded to prohibit a contract between a health care provider and a health care service plan or a health insurer from containing a provision that restricts the ability of the provider to furnish health care pricing or health care quality information to subscribers, enrollees, or insureds of the plan or insurer.  The amendment removes the provider from this prohibition and now affects only the health plan or insurer. According to the committee analysis, Corbett says the reason for the bill is to

allow health consumers to save money by allowing them to receive the  information they need in order to shop for health care  services.  She notes that an increasing number of consumers are in PPO plans, which often include sizeable deductibles and coinsurance requirements.  Since consumers must pay a portion or all of the cost of a given service  out-of-pocket under these plans, she argues that it is in consumers’ interest to determine the cost of a given procedure or service before they undergo the procedure, as  well as, determining which providers have the most favorable outcomes for the procedure.

Meanwhile the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Corbett, passed SB 1696  by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), which would provide that:

  • a state or local agency may not by confidentiality agreement or other contract make information confidential or disclosable only with permission of the other party to the contract, if that information is otherwise subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act; and that
  • any contract entered into by a state or local agency subject to the Act, including the University of California, that requires a private entity to review, audit, or report on any aspect of that agency is public and subject to disclosure under the Act.

The bill was prompted by the experience of the San Francisco Chronicle, whose request for a copy of a program audit report from the University of California was met by a denial on the basis that, according to the California Newspaper Publishers Association, “the contract between UC and the auditor required the auditor’s consent before the report could be shared and the auditor refused to provide its consent.” 

Public Forum Law Week in Review: 3/17/08

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(CalAware Weekly comprises this plus the three previous posts)


Open Government

McKee: California Sunshine Dimmed in 2007       Writing in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, CalAware President Emeritus Richard McKee reports, “Three years after passage of Proposition 59, California’s ‘Sunshine Initiative,’ the public’s access to governmental information has greatly improved—not!”

Watchdog: Technology Can Transform Transparency       Writing in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, open government activist Kimo Crossman argues that “there’s no reason San Francisco can’t take the lead in using technology—generally simple, off the shelf, existing technology—to dramatically increase sunshine at City Hall and public participation in local government.”  He lists 13 examples.

Clinton: My A.G. Would Be Committed to Sunshine       Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) says she is "committed to restoring open government" by not only mandating more open meetings and release of public documents, but also by nominating "an attorney general who has a proven commitment to open government," according to her response to the Sunshine Week 2008: Sunshine Campaign survey of presidential candidates. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) has yet to be heard from; another recent survey suggests that 87 percent of Americans believe that a presidential candidate’s position on open government  is “somewhat” to “very” important in their voting decision.   

Stanford Law Prof to Unveil “Change Congress” Project
       Stanford Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig, nationally known expert in intellectual property and the Internet, has a new mission: to combat the influence of money in American democracy. Bolstered by the recent "Draft Lessig" movement that almost convinced him to run for Congress, Lessig will further his mission by launching a new "Change Congress" project in a Sunshine Week lecture sponsored by the Sunlight Foundation and Omidyar Network.??In this lecture, Lessig will describe his decision to focus his academic interests on the issue of the systemic corruption of American democracy. He will “explore the ways in which democracy is threatened by corruption and ways we, as citizens, can respond.”  The speech, from 1:30 to 3 pm. EDT Thursday, March 20 in Washington, D.C., will also be webcast at? http://www.visualwebcaster.com/thepressclub-lessig-032008.

Free Speech

Being Uncivil No Longer to Be Punished at CSU     The Student Press Law Center reports that the California State University system is amending its student conduct code to settle a lawsuit filed last summer by San Francisco State’s College Republicans organization; students being “uncivil” to one another will be no longer subject to discipline.

Man Would Sue Blogger But Can’t Find Him     The North County Times reports that a Murrieta man has filed a defamation lawsuit, claiming that statements made about him on murrietaopinion.blogspot.com have exposed him to "hatred, ridicule, contempt and disgrace.” But so far, neither he nor his attorney knows who they are suing.?

City Adopts New Rules on Temporary Signs      The Lassen County News reports that the Susanville City Council has approved a new temporary (e.g. political or other personal statements) sign ordinance allowing their placement on private property with minimal restrictions and in the public right-of-way with more restrictions.

City Inaugurates Annual ‘No Cussing’ Week
        The Los Angeles Times reports that they’re swearing off profanity this week in South Pasadena. And it’s about #!&@% time too, say some in this leafy residential city that to outsiders smacks more of Mayberry than misbehaving.   

Whistleblowers

Librarian Fired; Reported Child Porn Viewer       The Visalia Times-Delta editorializes against the decision of Tulare County to fire a novice librarian who had reported to police a man who was viewing pictures of naked boys on the library’s computer.

Free Press

Swiss Bank in Wikileaks Case Drops Lawsuit        Blogger Declan McCullough reports that the Swiss bank that successfully sued to yank the Wikileaks.org domain name, and then faced a severe setback in a subsequent court ruling, has given up for now.

City, Newpaper at Odds over Siting of Newsracks
      The Selma Enterprise reports that it and the City of Selma have become entangled in a fight over the placement of news racks on a corner in a residential area.

Open Meetings

Reporter Ejected  from Budget Cuts Session        The Sacramento Valley Mirror reports that the Glenn County Finance Chairman “booted a reporter for this paper out of a department heads meeting” concerning necessary budget cuts.

Trustee: Contract Extension Approved Illegally
       The Stockton Record reports that San Joaquin Delta College President Raul Rodriguez’s three-year contract extension was orchestrated through a series of illegal one-on-one meetings initiated by board President Leo Burke, according to a longtime trustee.

Public Information

Court Rules Informant Files Can Be Unsealed     The San Diego Union-Tribune that a federal appellate court has ruled http://calaware.org/uploads/In re Copley Press 3:4:08.pdf that the public has the right to see documents and transcripts relating to the secret guilty plea of a Tijuana drug kingpin, despite what prosecutors say.

Bill Bans Public Record Nondisclosure Pacts 
     The  California Newspaper Publishers Association reports that Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) has introduced legislation to prohibit a Calilfornia public agency from entering into an agreement that makes information confidential or disclosable only with permission of the other party to the contract, if that information is legally subject to disclosure as public information.

Some Agencies 15 Years Plus in FOIA Arrears       The Hill reports that several federal agencies are running more than 15 years late on public record requests sent under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) when the first President Bush was still in office.

Many Concealed Weapon Permits Issued in Tulare       The Visalia Times-Delta reports, as part of an ongoing inquiry into who holds permits to carry concealed weapons issued by the Tulare County Sheriff, that there are more than 1,200 outstanding within the 400,000 plus population county.

Sunshine Week Special: A Public Records Wizard

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Beginning this Thursday, March 20, anyone seeking access to public records from California state or local government agencies can use a quick, inexpensive Internet service called SunScribe. Sacramento-based Californians Aware, a nonprofit open government advocacy group, is offering the new wizard-assisted service. It can be accessed on CalAware’s Web site (www.calaware.org) and will automatically generate customized request letters developed by public records legal specialist Terry Francke, who serves as CalAware’s general counsel. 

SunScribe will offer users three levels of service:

  • The basic level is a do-it-yourself option that will generate a form letter for the user to submit. This service is free to CalAware members, or $2.99 to others.
  • For those seeking anonymity as requesters, CalAware will contact the relevant agency on the user’s behalf at the Gold service level, available to members at $19.99.
  • The full-service or Premium level will include further assistance and oversight by Francke, who will follow up with the agency with reconsideration letters if he feels that the request was improperly denied, plus an evaluation of the strength of the agency’s position to help denied requesters decide their options.  Premium level service is available to members at $74.99.

SunScribe will be the first public records request service of its kind in California, offering help that previously has been available only through attorneys charging hundreds of dollars an hour. 

The service does not include legal representation or litigation, but attorneys who provide such service throughout the state are listed in CalAware’s free lawyer directory.

SunScribe is a service made possible by a grant from the law firm of Cooper, White & Cooper in San Francisco.

For more details, visit http://www.calaware.org beginning Thursday, March 20.