Q: Does a court, judge and/or legal research attorney need to comply with a CPRA request? How can citizens format a CPRA request to view or obtain access to ALL records: electronic files, emails and texts from all devices? Should separate requests be filed for state & county agency? Is there a clean format to avoid delays?
A: Adjudicative court records, i.e., those that are filed for use in court proceedings, are presumptively open to the public under the First Amendment. There are certain categories of court records that may be filed under seal and/or otherwise confidential per statute, but in general, the presumption is that these records should be disclosed to the public upon request. Such requests may be made in person at the court’s records department.
Unfortunately, notes or research that a particular judge might generate are not subject to disclosure under either the First Amendment or the Public Records Act, which does not apply to adjudicative records. In other words, only the judge’s decisions that are filed in a particular proceeding are presumptively subject to public disclosure under the First Amendment.
California Rule of Court 10.500 governs public access to judicial administrative records, and might be a vehicle through which you could obtain non-adjudicative records that shed light on the court’s conservatorship program. The rule operates much in the same way as the Public Records Act, so any request for records made under this rule could be submitted in the same way as a request under the PRA would be submitted. We typically advise members of the public to submit PRA requests in writing, and I would advise the same with respect to a request made under Rule 10.500. I would recommend directing the request to the court’s executive officer, who can then decide who in his or her office should handle the request. A sample PRA request letter can be found on the FAC’s website here. Of course, you would want to replace any references to the PRA with references to Rule 10.500.
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC 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. No attorney-client relationship has been formed by way of this response.