FAC Obtains Clemency Records in 6 California Cases After Challenging Secret Docket

FAC’s year-long campaign for transparency in a key aspect of California’s criminal justice process has resulted in the release of previously sealed records in six clemency cases — records FAC is now making public.

FAC obtained the records after securing a series of rulings from the California Supreme Court rejecting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s efforts to maintain secrecy of files to seek clemency for twice-convicted felons. Despite the rulings, the governor’s office delayed the release of these records, twice asking for more time before making them available to FAC. 

The release of these documents follows FAC’s prior successful effort to unseal records related to Gov. Jerry Brown’s pardon last year of former state Sen. Roderick Wright. 

Since the Wright records were made public earlier this year, the governor’s office has continued to insist that the file materials in its clemency requests remain sealed in their entirety, requiring FAC to continue filing motions to unseal. 

The newly public records include hundreds of pages the governor has fought to keep secret, including some records that have been previously publicly filed in other courts, underscoring why there is no valid argument for complete secrecy.

“The governor has taken the position that every last page of these files must be secret — a position that is as impossible to support legally as it is facially ridiculous,” said FAC Executive Director David Snyder. “FAC will continue to fight for transparency here because the governor is not above California law — he must follow the same rules as everyone else when filing papers in California courts. That includes proving the public is not entitled to see his arguments and evidence for why duly convicted felons should be granted clemency.”

The files are submitted to the Supreme Court under a process outlined in California law providing court oversight of a governor’s decision to grant clemency to anyone twice convicted of a felony. As part of the process, California law mandates that the governor submit various papers to the court, including the application to the governor for the issuance of a pardon or commutation. 

California governors Brown and Newsom have submitted these materials to the court as “confidential.” And until FAC intervened starting in 2018, the Supreme Court acquiesced to that designation — without following the strict requirements under California law for determining what court records can be sealed from public view.

Access the records related to the governor’s recommendation to pardon or commute the sentences of:

FAC is represented in this matter by Thomas R. Burke, Rochelle Wilcox and Selina MacLaren of the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine. 

For more information, contact:
David Snyder 
Executive Director 
First Amendment Coalition 
(415) 760-5060 

Thomas R. Burke
Davis Wright Tremaine
(415) 276-6552