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Asked & Answered

A&A is a searchable database of questions posed by users like you about their rights under open government laws and First Amendment safeguards that have been answered by FAC’s attorneys—all First Amendment and government access specialists at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, LLP, an international law firm with offices in San Francisco.

A&A: Accessing Aggregated Medical Information for COVID-19 Deceased

Q: I was told by our county authorities that the county cannot release specific ages, gender, co-morbidities or housing situation (group homes vs. apartments vs. single-family homes) for those individuals whose cause of death was attributed to COVID-19 on the grounds that releasing that data would violate health information privacy rules under HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). I do not want a list of information for each individual. I want to aggregate data on demographics. I understand HIPPA protects the individually identifiable health information about a decedent, but I wouldn’t think aggregate information would count as “individually identifiable.”

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A&A: Can a Newspaper Be Held Liable For How it Described Court Documents in a Story?

Q: We have a question about properly citing Court documents in one of our articles. We ran a story based on court documents and police reports. One of the defendants contacted us saying that we “defamed” him in our article by writing that he had been “convicted” of the crime. His argument is that he plead guilty and therefore was never “convicted.” My question is if we did make any mistake citing these documents, have we possibly opened up ourselves to liability? A: In California, the law provides protections to the media for accurately reporting on “official” documents and proceedings,

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A&A: Did Facebook Violate My First Amendment Rights When it Deleted My Comment As “Hate Speech”?

Q: Recently Facebook removed a comment I made on my account and warned me about “hate speech.” This is a real strongly-worded accusation, and “hate” definitely was not my intention. I think it is or should be illegal to call something “hate speech,” just because it is conservative and opinionated and Facebook’s policing of my account is unwarranted legally. Do I have a case? A: In general, First Amendment claims can only be brought when the government attempts to suppress the speech of its citizens — i.e. when there is “state action” that suppresses free speech. It is unlikely that

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A&A: Are Community Action Agencies Subject to the Brown Act?

Q: You would think that Community Action Agencies (nonprofit 501c3) would be subject to the Brown Act since they were created under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, are required to have one-third of their board made up of elected officials, and receive huge amounts of federal and state tax payer monies, etc. But a local newspaper here told us they are not. Can you settle this? A: A “legislative body” is subject to the Brown Act.  A “legislative body” has been defined as follows: The governing body of a local agency. Government Code section 54952(a). This term includes bodies such

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A&A: Are Depositions Public Records and Can We Publish Portions Of Them Legally?

Q: We have depositions from a 1994 California case with selected content we would like to use for a report. I understand that California depositions are not a matter of public record, though some other states make depositions a public record.The case was dismissed but never settled. Other than attaching the depositions or portions of the depositions to a court-filed document, is there any other legally accepted strategy to making selected portions of the depositions public for an article of public interest? A: Depositions are not automatically outside the bounds of public access in California—as an example, Cal. Code of

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A&A: Can a California agency deny my records request without providing any citations or reasons?

Q: I am encountering a problem with regards to the California Public Records Act and state parks. I was seeking log sheets, invoices, work orders or receipts regarding a five-year project. I received the log sheets and a map of the work area but nothing more. No explanations or citations of the law were given to explain why those records were not provided to me. I called the state parks and was told those records did not exist. They would not answer any of my CPRA questions or offer any legal advice. I explained that a different agency told me the

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