Public Records: $60,000 penalty puts access at risk

From The Press-Enterprise:

When the publisher of a small-town newspaper north of Sacramento made a public records request to learn more about spending done by school officials, he had no idea it would threaten the existence of the Sacramento Valley Mirror.

But Tim Crews is fighting nearly $60,000 in penalties after a Glenn County Superior Court judge ruled that a lawsuit he filed over the records was frivolous. Most of the sum would reimburse money the Willows Unified School District spent fighting the request that Crews made under the California Public Records Act.

Crews is now getting legal help from the California First Amendment Coalition, a Sacramento-based group that advocates for transparent government. Press-Enterprise is a member of the coalition.

“If people in Tim’s situation can be ordered to pay tens of thousands of dollars for having gone to court to enforce a request for public records, then no one will be willing to enforce the Public Records Act,” Peter Scheer, executive director of the coalition, which is seeking donations to fight the Glenn County ruling, said in an email.

Crews’ case is complex. But Sheer contents that it puts the idea of transparent government at risk in California by sabotaging the state’s essential public records law.

The California First Amendment Coalition is a member of NFOIC. — eds