The Worst Advice We’ve Ever Heard About California Public Records Act

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Jane couldn’t stand John and understandably so.  John had a big problem with keeping his hands to himself, especially when it came to the younger ladies in the office.  The investigative reports were plentiful and it wasn’t long before John was out the door.  Jane was happy to see John’s BMW drive off the parking lot for the last time. Time passed peacefully for three years.  Then all of a sudden memories of John were on Jane’s desk again.  Bam! A California Public Records Act (PRA) request for information involving sexual harassment complaints, training and money spent on such items.

Jim showed his boss, Jane, the PRA and asked what he should do.  Jane, the vindictive type, wanted to make sure that everyone knew what John had done, so she told Jim go ahead and send the records out.   Jim asked if they should let John know about the PRA.  To which Jane quickly said not to worry because John was now a former employee and since his termination, he has no right to know about the PRA.

PRA’s and the right to object

Bad employees come and go and if you’re lucky they don’t stick around long enough to bring your entire organization to a halt.  But just because an employee was a bad employee, doesn’t mean they don’t have rights.  Those rights include the right to object to a local agency’s decision to release records regarding themselves.

In Marken v. Santa Monica-Malibu USD (2012) the court ruled that a current or former employee has the right to object to a local agency releasing records regarding themselves.  The former or current employee can object by filing a petition for writ of mandate,  but that objection is based on the employee knowing that there is a PRA request.

In the above story, Jane not only gave poor advice to Jim, but was also not the right person to handle that PRA request.  Jane should have instructed Jim to contact the former employee and notify him of the PRA.  This would have allowed the former employee the chance to file the writ of mandate if he would have liked.  Instead, Jane sought to satisfy her desires to ruin John and in the process brought about a reverse PRA lawsuit against their agency.

When you are faced with PRA’s involving employees or former employees, it is always a best practice to notify them and find out if they object.

The names in the above story have been changed to protect those involved.

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