Q: Is it legal to forward documents obtained in a CPRA request regarding a teacher’s misconduct when previously employed by one school district to the superintendent and board members of the school district where the teacher is currently employed? Also, if a school district won’t reply to my CPRA request sent via email do you recommend sending again by certified mail to the superintendent and a school board member before hiring an attorney to help?
A: With regard to your first question, public records obtained under the Public Records Act are just that: public. Thus, you are free to share public records, properly in your possession, with others.
With regard to your second question, the Public Records Act does not require written requests, but written requests require written responses. Gov’t Code § 6253(b). Agencies are required to respond to written requests for records within 10 calendar days of receipt of the request, and may extend that deadline by an additional 14 days where there are “unusual circumstances” as set forth in Gov’t Code § 6253(c).
Thus, the agency should, at the very least, have provided you with a written response letting you know whether it has records responsive to your request, and whether it will be invoking any exemptions to justify withholding such records, within 24 days of its receipt of your request (assuming there were “unusual circumstances”). Further, the agency’s response must let you know when copies of the records will be available. Id. In any event, such copies should be made available “promptly.”
That your request was made over email should not affect the legitimacy of your request, however it may been lost in a surge of emails, or diverted to the district’s spam folder. You may wish to write back to the school district, including a copy of your email request, and reminding it of the deadlines set forth in the CPRA.
If you believe an agency is improperly withholding records, your recourse is to file a lawsuit. A lawsuit under the CPRA is initiated by submitting a verified petition to a court asking it to issue a writ of mandate directing the agency to release the requested records. Cal. Gov. Code § 6258 provides that “Any person may institute proceedings for injunctive or declarative relief or writ of mandate in any court of competent jurisdiction to enforce his or her right to inspect or to receive a copy of any public record or class of public records under this chapter.” If you are successful in proving a violation of the public records laws, the court will order the agency to release the records, and the agency will be liable for your court costs and attorney’s fees. Cal. Gov. Code § 6259(b), (d). However, if the court finds your suit is “clearly frivolous,” you will be responsible for the agency’s court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees in defending the lawsuit. Cal. Gov. Code § 6259(d).
If you would like to reference additional information regarding PRA requests, including a sample letter template, you can do so here.
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.