Magazine article Editor & Publisher

FoI Act Weakened by California Supreme Court

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

FoI Act Weakened by California Supreme Court

Article excerpt

THE CALIFORNIA SUPREME Court has thrown a serious roadblock in the path of state newspapers and the public seeking to review police files of brutality charges against officers.

Ruling in a case brought by the Victorville Daily Press against the local sheriff, the court said the liberal disclosure provisions of the federal Freedom of Information Act (FoI) cannot supersede the more restrictive California Public Records Act (PRA) in obtaining police investigatory files.

Requests for broader disclosure should be directed to the state Legislature, the court stated.

For nearly three years, the Daily Press has been waging a legal battle against Sheriff Dick Williams for access to his files regarding the beating of Daniel Morgan, a local businessman.

On Aug. 22, 1990, deputies raided Morgan's home during the early morning hours in search of illegal drugs. No drugs were found but Morgan reportedly was severely beaten by the officers.

The case began when the Freedom Newspapers-owned Daily Press sought confirmation of disciplinary action it learned Williams had imposed on two of the deputies assigned to the raid.

The paper was partially upheld in Superior Court, which ordered the release of some documents. The State Court of Appeal went further by directing the trial court to use the FoI Act in deciding what files should be opened.

Sheriff Williams argued that, under the PRA, police investigatory files are immune from disclosure.

In writing the Supreme Court's unanimous opinion, Justice Edward Panelli said judges should apply the PRA "according to terms" and order disclosure "only of that information from law enforcement investigatory records that the statute expressly requires to be disclosed. …

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