Our public records lawsuit against CalPERS was recently dismissed by the 3rd District Court of Appeal. (If you are unfamiliar with this case, read this article.)
The appeal was necessary after the lower court incorrectly ruled that pension type was “tantamount” to disclosing that employee’s medical records, and thus were exempt from disclosure.
Unfortunately, we made a technical error and did not realize that California law requires that appeals of public records cases be made via a petition for writ review, which is a speedier alternative to the traditional appeals process.
Once we discovered our error, we filed a petition requesting that our traditional appeal be treated as a petition for writ review. We pointed out that all the necessary information was before the court, and it would be improper to penalize a requester for inadvertently failing to take advantage of a statutory provision designed to aid requesters and facilitate speedier appellate review.
Unfortunately, the appellate court thought otherwise and determined that we are not entitled to an appeal because of our initial filing error.
The entire purpose of the California Public Records Act is to facilitate prompt access to public records. The Legislature made writ review the sole method of appeal in furtherance of that objective. To now use that to deny the requester their fundamental appellate rights and, consequently, the ability to access public records is incompatible with the intent and purpose of the statute.
Consequently, Transparent California today filed a petition for review with the California Supreme Court. The petition asks the court to weigh in on this matter and instruct appellate courts to use their discretion to hear appeals in public records cases that were inadvertently filed as a traditional appeal rather than a petition for writ review.
As the California Supreme Court previously explained, “the Legislature’s purpose in replacing review by direct appeal with review by extraordinary writ was in no sense to disadvantage litigants seeking review of PRA decisions or to constrict the power of the Courts of Appeal to correct errors in those decisions.” Powers v. City of Richmond, 10 Cal.4th 85, 112 (1995).
Hopefully, they still feel the same way today.