Court: State Bar's Exam Files May Be Open to Scrutiny

The files of the State Bar of California are not subject to the California Public Records Act or the judicial branch’s own rules for public access to its administrative records, but under the common law they may be subject to public inspection provided the Bar can show no overriding interest in privacy or other confidentiality. So ruled the California Court of Appeal for the First District in its decision filed today in Sander v. State Bar. The plaintiff is an academic researcher who is seeking statistics showing the Bar exam passage rate of minority students—with no names attached.  He is attempting to determine if law schools’ affirmative action policies have resulted in the graduation of minority students who are unusually ill-prepared to pass the Bar exam.  The trial court in San Francisco ruled that the common law does not create a presumption of access to Bar records – a conclusion that would leave that institution uniquely insulated from public scrutiny among all public entities in the state.  Today’s decision sends the case back to the trial court for further consideration of the common law’s default rule of transparency balanced against whatever public interest in nondisclosure the Bar may argue.

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