FAC Asks California Supreme Court to Stop PUC From Frustrating Public Records Act

Update: On Nov. 22, 2021 the California Supreme Court granted the petition for review and transferred the case to the First District Court of Appeal, “with directions to vacate its order denying mandate and to issue an order directing respondent California Public Utilities Commission to show cause why the relief sought in the petition should not be granted.”

Rittiman, et al. v. Public Utilities Commission, No. S270145

Read FAC’s amicus letter in support of the petition for review

Court: California Supreme Court 

About the case: Journalists with ABC10 in Sacramento submitted a Public Records Act request to the California Public Utilities Commission related to its oversight of PG&E, the massive and troubled gas and electric utility. The reporters sought emails between PUC officials and Gov. Gavin Newsom staffers. The agency denied the request, and the news station pursued an administrative appeal, an internal process before the PUC. When that stalled, the news station took its case to court. But a panel of justices of the First District Court of Appeal threw it out of court without reviewing the merits, holding that a requester of public records must first exhaust administrative remedies before the PUC before going to court. That runs contrary to the public’s rights under both the California Public Records Act and the state constitution, FAC explains in supporting the news station’s petition before the California Supreme Court. This case thus presents an important question of law requiring the court’s resolution “because the Court of Appeal has condoned the PUC’s continued deprivation of records requestors’ right to receive the disclosability determination within the time required by Section 6253(b) and their entitlement to the speedy judicial review pursuant to Section 6258,” FAC said in its amicus letter urging the justices to take up the case.

Our position: The California Supreme Court should grant review and reverse the decision below.

From the letter: “The First Appellate District’s decision in Rittiman, et al., v. Public Utilities Commission undermines the California Public Records Act and paves a path for agencies across the state to engineer procedural obstacles to the public’s constitutional right of access to public records and statutory right to enforce it.”

Joining FAC in the letter to the Supreme Court are the Associated Press and The Center for Investigative Reporting, also known as Reveal. FAC and the media coalition are represented by Matthew S.L. Cate of the law firm Ballard Spahr.

Date filed: Oct. 4, 2021

More: Read ABC10’s related news coverage. Read ABC10’s petition for review.

Read FAC’s full amicus letter to the California Supreme Court.

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