By John Pinkney
The California Public Records Act (CPRA) states that, upon request and unless law duly exempts it, inspection and disclosure of government records may be published for the benefit of the public. The CPRA allows people access to information concerning the business conduct of government agencies. The Act promotes the most disclosure of governmental operations to protect the government’s accountability to the public.
What a Public Agency Needs to Know When Handling Requests
There are things that a public agency needs to understand when preparing or handling a request for public records.
1. The public agency has the burden of mitigating the denial of access to records.
As per the Act, public access is presumed, meaning the requesters do not need to declare a “need to know” state to gain access. The agency has the burden of proof, not the requester. The agency must justify why it should not provide information. Specific laws and statutes expressly state that public records are not subject to disclosure. Citing the law is the only means to deny access to information.
2. The request for disclosure does not necessarily have to be in writing.
The California Public Records Act does not explicitly state that there is a requirement for writing. This entitles a requester to demand disclosure even without a formal written request to the agency.
On one hand, a written request is helpful for both requester and the agency. A person’s verbal request may be turned down due to misinformed or inadequate reasons.
Our Coachella Valley government legal counsel suggests a written request can provide detailed information and descriptions. It can also set a deadline for response.
A written notice gives the requester the right to receive a written response for his request. They may state reasons and legal authority about why they withhold records.
3. The request for disclosure does not need to declare the requester’s identity and purpose.
The agency cannot demand to know the requester’s identity, nor the purpose for information. The CPRA only requires identification when the information sought is about pesticides or addresses of persons related to crimes.
Our Coachella Valley government legal counsel observed that some requesters provide their names and contact numbers if the request needs follow-up. Others take the initiative to check back on their own. Not declaring the reason for why information is sought cannot be a limitation to a person’s right to access public records.
4. The scope of the request for information must be clear.
Our Coachella Valley government legal counsel states that providing the scope of the request needed helps in precisely identifying files. The agency needs to establish if the public information is under its jurisdiction and control, as well as the exemptions applicable to the same information.
5. The agency must do its best to help the requester succeed, although it is not required to compile reports
According to the CPRA, the agency is required to, under reasonable circumstances, assist the requester when access to information is not possible.
- Help the requester identify information and public records that are responsive and applicable to the purpose of his request.
- Provide the physical location and information technology in which the records are kept and available
- Present suggestions to overcome practical basis when access for information is denied
However, should public records be readily available, no further help from the agency is required.
Contact Our Coachella Valley Government Legal Counsel
Contact us at 760-322-2275 to schedule a consultation and find out how our experienced government legal counsel can help you.