February 14, 2019 – The First Amendment Coalition (FAC) filed suit today against California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for failing to comply with the state’s new, landmark police transparency law.
The suit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, seeks the release of records regarding serious police misconduct—records that all state and local agencies are now required to disclose under Senate Bill 1421. The bill, which went into effect on Jan. 1, requires the disclosure of files that have been confidential for decades, including those involving police shootings and accusations of police misconduct.
The California Department of Justice, under the authority of the Attorney General, is one of a relatively small number of agencies that has refused to comply with the law. FAC requested records from the department under SB 1421 on January 4, but it refused to disclose the records in a response sent on January 28, prompting FAC’s lawsuit.
“As the highest law enforcement officer in the state, the Attorney General has an obligation to not only comply with the California Public Records Act, but to send the right message about transparency to police departments across the state,” said FAC Executive Director David Snyder. “Unfortunately, the Attorney General has done neither. By denying public access to these crucial files, he has given a green light to other departments to disregard the new law.”
Police unions across California have been working to undermine the law by arguing it doesn’t apply to records prior to Jan. 1 of this year. FAC has led media coalitions to work to defeat these efforts in various counties, including successfully opposing an attempt by a police union in San Bernardino County—the California Supreme Court denied the union’s request to make the law apply only after Jan. 1 after FAC filed a briefing to block the last-ditch effort.
FAC and a media coalition also prevailed last week in Contra Costa County Superior Court where a judge sided with the organization and denied a preliminary injunction sought by police unions. A similar attempt is taking place in Los Angeles County and multiple other counties around the state.
FAC is represented in this matter by attorney Michael Risher.