La Twon Reginal Weaver is a prisoner sentenced to death. In January 2013, Weaver filed a Public Records Act (PRA) request with the San Diego County District Attorney's Office, in which he sought (1) copies of all charging documents in homicide cases filed by the District Attorney between January 1977 and May 1993 and (2) all court filings in superior court cases People v. Troiani, et al. and People v. Moffett addressing allegations that the District Attorney selectively prosecuted capital cases.
The District Attorney denied the request on the grounds that the requested documents are exempt from disclosure as investigatory files and as documents prohibited from disclosure under a different state or federal law. The District Attorney also objected on the basss that the requested documents implicate the privacy rights of defendants and victims as protected by the California Constitution, and that the request was overly burdensome. Weaver filed a writ petition seeking to compel the District Attorney to produce the documents. The superior court denied the writ petition, and the Court of Appeal issued an order to show cause.
The documents sought by Weaver were the District Attorney's file copies of court documents whose originals were filed in the superior court. The court must make the documents available to the public upon request, and thus the District Attorney was also required to disclose the documents. The Court noted that when determining whether a party is entitled to documents requested under the PRA, the determinative issue is the content of the documents, not the location.
Similarly, the filings were not protected by the California Constitution's right to privacy because there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in documents that were filed in court, unless they were filed under seal. Nor were the documents "investigatory files" due to the fact that they were publicly filed in superior court.
In support of its argument that the request was overly burdensome, the District Attorney presented evidence that it would require an employee to work for 40 hours at an approximate cost of $3,400 in order to respond to the request. The Court held that the District Attorney's interests were far outweighed by the public's interest in the fair administration of the death penalty. Thus, the Court granted Weaver's writ petition to compel the District Attorney to comply with his PRA request.
Just because a party seeking public records may obtain the records from another source does not mean a public agency may refuse to provide them. The agency may, however, charge the requesting party the "direct costs of duplication."
Weaver v. Superior Court (2014) 168 Cal.Rptr.3d 864.