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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: Sheriff Denied My Request For Data From Automated License Plate Readers

Q: My local sheriff recently denied my request for information related to Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs). I would appreciate any advice you might have about a remedy. A: As you know, the California Public Records Act (CPRA) sets forth the rules and procedures governing information disclosures made by public agencies, including sheriff’s departments. Public records are open to inspection by members of the public unless they are exempt from disclosure by express exemptions codified in the Act. Cal. Gov. Code § 6253. The CPRA contains a broad exemption for police investigatory records. Specifically, Cal. Gov. Code § 6254(f) exempts

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A&A: COVID-19 Prohibition On Public Gatherings Prevented Me From Speaking to the Public

Q: I’m a federal whistleblower who’s been shut out of a local board of supervisors public meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic and new laws disallowing public gatherings. Therefore I was denied the chance to go on the record to the public about county officials polluting millions of gallons of stormwater. How can I redress this wrong? A: As a general matter, the public must be permitted to attend any meeting governed by the Brown Act. Cal. Gov. Code § 54953(a). However, in March, Governor Newsom issued executive orders N-25-20 and N-29-20, which temporarily suspended any Brown Act requirements “expressly or impliedly requiring the physical presence of

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A&A: Does City Council’s Rule Against Holding Up Signs At Meetings Violate the First Amendment?

Q: City council meeting attendees have been told they can’t hold up signs. The mayor told people not to talk or to take their conversations outside. If residents in the audience even whisper to one another, a police officer walks over and tells them to stop talking or leave. Recently a resident wrote to the city attorney that this violated the First Amendment rights.  The city attorney sent him a copy of the Municipal Code saying disrupting a council meeting is a misdemeanor and he would enforce it.  Before the public comment portion of the meeting, the mayor reads an

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A&A: How Can We Obtain Criminal Charges Against Our Community Service District for Violations of the Brown Act?

Q: We are requesting assistance in criminally prosecuting Community Service District (CSD) members and General Manager for multiple past and ongoing violations of the Brown Act. A: Unfortunately, we cannot provide individual representation through this hotline, nor can we provide specific legal advice. If you are looking for an attorney to represent you, a good place to look would be the County Bar Association’s lawyer referral service. We can, however, provide you with general legal advice about the Brown Act and how it is enforced. At the outset, the Brown Act does not provide for criminal penalties, except for Cal.

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A&A: I Called Police About My Loud Neighbors Gathering During COVID. Were These Redactions Lawful?

Q: This concerns a California Public Records Act request I recently made to a Police Department, and the response I got back improperly withholding some information from one of the responsive and disclosable Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) Call Reports. Recently, one of the neighbors was having a very loud late-night party and illegal gathering (vis-à-vis the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order). I called the police and reported the incident. Then, some days later, as the victim of the incident (I live in the neighborhood and was being disturbed by the illegal noise), I emailed a CPRA request asking for a copy of

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A&A: How Do I Access Records Pertaining to a Complaint I Filed In New Mexico?

Q: I was just trying to find out if I have any rights to see my own personal file in New Mexico that contains a complaint I filed with the state medical board against a doctor. They have twice refused me access to my file. Both times confidentiality is the stated reason for denying me access. My own file is too confidential for me to see? A: We are more familiar with California’s public records laws, but we note that New Mexico has an Inspection of Public Records Act, set forth at NMSA 1978 § 14-2 et seq. The IPRA provides

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