‘Vexatious requestor’ bill pulled due to opposition

Whenever somebody moves to limit or close the flow of public records, I get a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Today’s ulcer comes courtesy of Attorney General Jerry Brown and Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter, D-Rialto, who in February put forth AB 520, which would let a judge issue an order limiting the number and scope of requests a particular person can make under the California Public Records Act. “The bill would require the court, in issuing the order, to determine that the requestor has sought records under the act for an improper purpose, including, but not limited to, the harassment of a public agency or its employees,” according to the Legislative Counsel’s digest.

As someone who uses the CPRA often, I see problems with this “vexatious requestor” bill – agencies petitioning judges any time they feel they’re being picked on. Simply put, it’s none of a government agency’s business why someone wants public records – it’s not their place, nor a judge’s, to pick and choose between who will and won’t get records that should be available to anyone and everyone. Audits have shown many state agencies already fail to comply with CPRA, and this bill could give them yet another way of tying up requests.

The California Newspaper Publishers Association is dead-set against it, and open-government group Californians Aware opposes the bill not only on principle but as inherently legally flawed.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee was to take up the bill at its hearing yesterday, but Carter pulled it “in order to work with the recent opposition that has come to light,” she said today. “The bill will require further research to develop, if possible, a measure that would address the significant consumption of public resources related to repetitive public records requests that appear to be abusive in nature. First and foremost, however, we must protect the State’s Open Records Act and the public’s right to oversee its government. Unless that can be assured, and opposition to the bill removed, the bill will not move forward.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • BJD

    Dear Mr. Richman,

    I dare you, I double dog, over the barrel dare you to send a PRA to the town of Discovery Bay and CoCo County, requesting all PRA’s from a man named Bill Richardson… but you have to ask for ALL of them.

  • Hi Josh: Check out my blog post on AB 520 —


    In my piece you’ll see comments from Marc Le Forestier, Attorney General Jerry Brown’s legislative affairs director.
    Le Forestier said the state does have some gnarly examples of California Public Record Act requester abuse. He also told me that, ultimately, the reason for the legislation was about agency cost and resource containment in these troubled and uncertain economic times.
    At its core, the CPRA is critical to illuminating the operations of California government because it forbids a given governmental agency from taking into consideration a requester’s purpose or reason for seeking certain public records.
    If AB 520 was to be enacted, however, a superior court judge would be put in that exact position, thus creating a terribly steep ‘slippery slope’ along the way.
    As a veteran California journalist I share the view that this is a heavy-handed effort that if passed would do more harm than good and would establish a “chilling effect” on the rights of all folks to better monitor and understand their state government.
    Thanks, Josh, for bringing your Tribune and BANG readers up to speed on this legislation.
    The Assembly’s Judiciary Committee has scheduled next Wednesday (4/28) to hear AB520. Whether or not the legislation is actually taken up at that time remains an open question. Let’s hope not.

  • John W

    I applaud the effort and major expense BANG has put forth to ensure access to public records by the press and other parties. However, it seems to me that truly abusive situations that overwhelm the capacity of a government office or agency to comply undermines the very access you’ve worked so hard to secure by giving agencies an excuse to throw up their arms and just say “sue us.” If the “vexatious requestor” is a real problem, beyond anybody’s definition of reasonableness, can’t you guys work with the AG to come up with something that works rather than just fight it? Wouldn’t that be in everybody’s best interest?