Q: I have put in a public records request for a report done about the police dept. They have denied my request saying it a draft. The report has been around since August and read by the police chief, city managers office and other members of city staff. Do I have the right to access this draft report?
A: The PRA exempts from disclosure “[p]reliminary drafts, notes, or interagency or intra-agency memoranda that are not retained by the public agency in the ordinary course of business, if the public interest in withholding those records clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure.” Govt. Code Section 6454(a).
Although some government personnel mistakenly believe that any “draft” document is automatically subject to this exemption, reading the text of the statute itself indicates that the exemption only applies if:
(1) the document is a preliminary draft, note, or memorandum;
(2) the agency establishes that the plan is not retained in the ordinary course of business; and
(3) the public interest in withholding the plan clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure.
See Citizens for a Better Env’t v. Dep’t of Food & Agric., 171 Cal. App. 3d 704, 712 (1985) (“The burden of proof and of persuasion of the existence of each condition is the Department’s.”).
This is generally a fairly high threshold to meet, and it sounds like the city hasn’t tried to establish either of the second two elements.
It may make sense to follow up with the city, pointing out that draft documents are only exempt from disclosure if the agency holding them meets both of the requirements set forth in Government Code section 6454(a).
You can find additional information about using the PRA to obtain records at the FAC web site at https://firstamendmentcoalition.org/category/resources/access-to-records/.
Holme Roberts & Owen LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to First Amendment Coalition hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.