By Prison Legal News

The California Court of Appeal held on November 16, 2012 that billing and payment records reflecting the amount of money a government agency paid in attorney fees to defend against a pending civil rights action were not exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act (CPRA), Government Code § 6250 et seq., even if the information was sought by a person seeking to assist the plaintiff litigants.

Attorneys David Mann and Donald Cook represent the plaintiffs in a civil rights lawsuit that has been pending in Los Angeles County Superior Court since 1999. That suit, which arose out of the arrest and detention of a husband and wife by members of the county’s Task Force for Regional Autotheft Prevention, has been the subject of numerous appellate proceedings, including Venegas v. County of Los Angeles, 153 Cal. App. 4th 1230 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 2007). Following an unpublished appellate decision in August 2011, the case was remanded to the lower court for trial on the sole remaining claim involving a violation of Civil Code § 52.1.

Attorney Cynthia Anderson-Barker, a colleague of Mann and Cook, filed a public records request seeking documents pertaining to billings from, and payments to, any law firm representing the county in the Venegas litigation. After the county denied the CPRA request, Anderson-Barker, represented by Mann and Cook, filed a petition for writ of mandate to compel disclosure of the records.

The county argued in response to the petition that, under the CPRA’s “pending litigation” exemption (Government Code § 6254(b)), as well as other exemptions, it was not required to produce the documents. The trial court ruled in favor of Anderson-Barker, though ordered redactions to remove attorney work product-related information from the requested billing and payment records.

Read More