In summary

California lawmakers are considering a bill that would reform how disclosure disputes under the Public Records Act are settled. Attorneys who work with public agencies say reforms should consider how the law can sometimes be misused.

Guest Commentary written by

Christine Wood

Christine Wood

Christine Wood is a partner at Best Best & Krieger and leads the firm’s Advanced Records Center team, which supports clients’ public record and information requests.

Re: “Could Public Records Act be made more useful?

Balanced Public Records Act reform is not just utilitarian, it is a necessity. Before we begin to fortify the PRA, let’s take a balanced look at what agencies face.

Larger municipalities in California receive thousands of requests annually. One receives as much as 9,000 requests annually – almost 30 every business day or about four an hour.

Some litigious or vengeful requesters use PRAs to exploit attorneys’ fees. In one instance, a petitioner bagged tens of thousands of public dollars filing writs for the sole purpose of collecting nuisance fees. Coupled with the disgruntled employees who use the PRA to burden agencies and increase costs, it is abundantly clear that reform is necessary.

Recent efforts by the Legislature to increase transparency have focused mostly on law enforcement records, but there never seems to be any interest in providing agencies a modicum of relief. As someone who treasures the fourth estate and its role in our democracy, I believe we can do both.

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