Q: The County Office of Education is refusing to provide me with documentation of a meeting that they are claiming occurred. It appears they are being disingenuous.
A: Under the California Public Records Act (“PRA”), the public has a right to inspect and obtain copies of documents collected or maintained by state or local agencies. The PRA requires agencies to provide you with the documents requested, or notify you that your request has been denied, within 10 days. (Gov’t Code § 6253). If the written request is denied, the agency is obligated to back its denial by citing an exemption in the PRA or other state or federal law allowing it to withhold the records you seek. (Gov’t code § 6255). It is not clear whether the Sonoma County Office of Education has cited any applicable PRA exemption or other authority to justify the denial of the records you seek. If not, you may want to submit a second request for those records and you might also want to remind the agency of its legal obligation to justify a denial of a records request. A sample PRA request is available on CFAC’s website at: http://www.cfac.org/templates/cpraletter.html.
The ultimate recourse under the PRA in the event of an improper denial is to initiate litigation. It is sometimes helpful to remind the agencies that the prevailing parties in a PRA litigation are entitled to their attorneys’ fees. Govt. Code § 6259(d) (“The court shall award court costs and reasonable attorney fees to the plaintiff should the plaintiff prevail in litigation filed pursuant to this section. The costs and fees shall be paid by the public agency of which the public official is a member or employee and shall not become a personal liability of the public official. If the court finds that the plaintiff’s case is clearly frivolous, it shall award court costs and reasonable attorney fees to the public agency.”). You might want to highlight this fact in your next communication with the agency.